Home >Politics >Policy >India compiling VIP list for easy US airport immigration

New Delhi: In a country where the VIP tag is deeply coveted, a new benchmark is going to be added to the list of attributes that go to make you a “very important person": the inclusion of your name in a list being compiled by the Indian government that will exempt a chosen few from going through tedious US airport immigration procedures.

If you get on this list, you will be deemed a “low risk" traveller, on par with US citizens, US residents, Dutch, German and South Korean nationals, among others.

For starters, the list will have some 2,000 names—former presidents and prime ministers besides the crème de la crème among industrialists and Bollywood celebrities. So the likes of Manmohan Singh, Pratibha Patil, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or a Gautam Adani will be among the lucky ones to be in the “first cut-off list".

The names were finalized in meetings between Indian and US officials in New Delhi over the past several months, most recently on 28 August in New Delhi.

The Indian government has plans to expand the list to 15,000, but that’s about all.

In a country with a population of 1.27 billion, at last count, getting into this “first list" will definitely need some good old-fashioned luck or “connections". Already, the clamour to be accommodated is gaining momentum.

“We have started getting queries already about the procedures involved in getting into the list. But we are very clear—the government will make the list and its going to be a select few. It can’t be anyone and everyone, only those whose records are untarnished, who don’t have criminal records or aren’t connected with any kind of economic offence," said a person familiar with the development declining to reveal any names of people who had called in seeking details. (By that yardstick, many an Indian ‘VIP’ stands automatically disqualified.)

The names, alongwith passport details, will be sent by the Union home ministry to the ministry of external affairs after proper verification and then onwards to the US authorities, including the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP). The US agencies will conduct their own checks before the CBP, that runs the Global Entry Programme, gives the green signal for expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travellers upon arrival in the US.

This is how it works:

Members of the Global Entry Programme arriving at select airports have to present their machine-readable passports at kiosks, place their fingers on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveller a transaction receipt and directs the traveller to baggage claim and the exit.

What it does is to reduce the chances of being frisked and quizzed—Shah Rukh Khan and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam have had the bitter experience of undergoing both.

Once up and running, it’s possible that the list of 15,000 will be expanded to include lesser mortals. “But that is in the future," said the person, holding out a sliver of hope for commoners.

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