TRAVEL ALERT: INDIA SURRENDERS! (Visa-runners exhale now)
No, mercenaries have not overrun the Chinese lines, and there are no boys from the Mersey or the Thames or the Thyme. No bombs have been launched; no shots have been fired. No casualties have been reported; the hospitals are not full. And if any negotiations have taken place, it’s been within tourist (and drinking) circles, not political ones. You see, we’re not talking about normal society here. We’re talking about an alien life form—visa runners.
For those of you who don’t know what a ‘visa-runner’ is (all ex-pats do) we’re talking about the practice of some expats—residents in a foreign country—of simply crossing the nearest border to renew their visas and/or time allowances in such country rather than going through the time-consuming and finance-consuming but requisite paperwork that the law strictly requires and which is normally associated with such residence. Oftentimes it is simply easier to add another thirty days… until hell freezes over.
Hell froze over in India in 2013. They came up with the brilliant idea that required anyone leaving the country to wait a full two months before reentering India. Visa runners usually reenter the same day. Now obviously countries want to control their borders (pardon the politics), but this is absurd and nothing short of Armegeddon for independent travelers… in addition to the groovers in Goa.
Think about it. That means that India can no longer be used as a base for travel to the neighboring countries—especially Nepal for poor backpackers, Bhutan for rich backpackers, Sri Lanka for culture vultures, China for adventurers, Bangladesh for Muslims, or Pakistan for jihadis. Many ex-pats have been doing this for so long that they have local spouses (mostly wives), kids, and (gulp) even grand-kids. What’s a mother to do?
I have some experience in this field. I did many visa runs while living in Thailand, as have many thousands of other adventurers, retirees and night trekkers. And I met people who’d over-stayed their visas for years. Then Thailand decided to crack down, with various schemes and trial projects that are still ongoing to this day, e.g. limiting the number of entries per calendar year (or was it any 360-day period?). Enforcement is difficult, and no country wants to throw the baby (tourism) out with the bath water (colonies of illegal immigrants, many of them financial refugees, others much worse. A little knowledge of the local culture(s) and language(s) never hurts, implying some understanding and sympathy with the hosts. Nobody wants six flags over somebody else’s Texas in their own country.
India’s new visa law created many current problems for me in trying to plan an extensive trip through the Asian sub-continent and Central Asia for the coming year. It’s not ideal for the ‘central base’ role anyway, since it’s so large and borders so distant (pre-planned itineries, i.e. for rich people, were always exempt BTW), but still… it’s nice to have some spontaneity in your travels. And no other country can play that role in the region, either. Pakistan doesn’t like to give visas to non-locals, and only single entries even then. And who wants to go to Pakistan anyway? I do, but mostly for the Karakoram Highway over the Himalayas to/from China. Sri Lanka is reasonable with their requirements, but distant, not central. Nepal only borders two countries, so not much help.
Of course we Western ex-pats always assume that it’s about us, the relatively rich ‘job creators’, appropriating the local resources for our own foreign necessities, and (nod nod wink wink) breeding the nation whiter and brighter in the process. In reality, there are other factors—and nationalities—of more concern to the host countries. Westerners may find it hard to believe that there are people so poor that they’d go to Thailand or India to find work, but there are many countries much poorer than that: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, etc. The list is long.
Those nationalities—and China—are still subject to India’s 2-month rule and fare no better in Thailand, with the exception of the Chinese, who have a special status there and magically ‘become Thai’ as soon as they’re up to speed in the language. You heard it here first. This is fast-breaking news, and should be accurate, but I’ll be looking for confirmation, even if I have to get it myself. But there’s no danger, it’s a professional career, though it could be arranged… Stay tuned.