Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Inaugurating the newly-constructed pedestrian terminal in Phuentsholing yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the immigration rules that will be applied at the pedestrian terminal from September 23 are not new.
“We are just streamlining and professionalising rules that have been in place. Although it may be inconvenient for some right now, it will benefit the nation, the people in the town and help us in the future,” he said.
The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to the Indian community, the Embassy of India, DANTAK, IMTRAT, and the Government of India (GoI) for standing with Bhutan throughout these years.
Lyonchhen said that His Majesty The King has reiterated, time and again, that the post-Covid-19 path for Bhutan must be a new one.
“It must be in such a way that the country not only battles the pandemic but it is also prepared for recurring epidemics as it is just a matter of time before another SARS-CoV-virus strikes,” he said. “And today, we are recognised as an exemplary country that successfully battled the pandemic.”
Thanking the people in Phuentsholing, Lyonchhen said that if people in other dzongkhags lived peacefully during the peak of the pandemic, it is because of the sacrifice people in Phuentsholing made.
Phuentsholing residents are positive about the new development in the border town. The pedestrian terminal will bring positive changes, they say.
An Indian businessman with a Bhutanese license in the town said the terminal brings safety for both the people in Phuentsholing and Jaigaon in the first place. “Many people used to be engaged in illegal activities across the border and come to Phuentsholing to hide,” he said, adding Bhutanese doing illegal activities did the same thing by crossing the border. “There were no records maintained. With the new system, such illegal activities will not occur anymore.”
The businessman said that the terminal will deter the illegal flow of “black money.” This will control the illegal buying and selling of INR across the border and place Ngultrum’s right value.
A Phuenthsoling resident, Namgay, said that the pedestrian terminal is a blessing. “Like what the Prime Minister said, these are not new rules. The relevant government offices have to work hard now to implement exactly as the rules are there,” he said.
Although the pedestrian terminal is expected to bring about positive local economic changes, a few are also expecting many Bhutanese would go across the border to use their Nu 3,000 quota. This will also help businesses across the border, they say.
The new norm
Starting September 23, the pedestrian terminal will document and regulate the entry and exit of all foreigners and Bhutanese as per the border management and border control norms and requirements. Indian nationals will be allowed to visit Phuentsholing after producing proof of identity (voter card or passport) and completing immigration formalities at the terminal.
They are allowed to visit until Rinchending Lhakhang. SDF will be applicable beyond this and they will also have to obtain a permit from the regional immigration office. Casual visitors who halt the night in Phuentsholing will be liable to pay the SDF.
Indian-registered vehicles will also be allowed within the designated zone without any charges. However, if such vehicles cross the designated zone, they will be required to pay Nu 4,500 per day.
Day workers from across the border will be permitted to work in Phuentsholing and other border towns without having to pay SDF. Employers must obtain work authorisation from the labour department to employ a day worker.
Employers must ensure that foreign workers are fully vaccinated. Full vaccination is two doses of any vaccine with a two-dose schedule or a single dose of any vaccine with a single-dose schedule.
Entry movement will be facilitated from 6 am and it will remain until 11 pm. Day workers are not allowed to halt in Phuentsholing and employers must ensure this. Otherwise, both the employer and the day worker will be penalised as per immigration rules and regulations.
Further, no Covid-19 testing will be required for inbound travellers. However, all individuals (12 years and above) entering Bhutan will be subjected to random RT-PCR at the formal points of entry or at the worksite to maintain Covid-19 surveillance for new variants. RT-PCR testing for surveillance will not be charged.
Individuals who test positive will undergo a five-day isolation protocol, without having to test at the end of the isolation period.
The government has spent over Nu 183 million to construct the international standard pedestrian terminal, equipped with all modern amenities and facilities that will provide travellers with a comfortable and pleasant experience.
It is fully air-conditioned and there is a separate and dedicated space with lounge facilities, restrooms, and clearance counters for tourists to make the entry seamless, convenient and efficient. There are also adequate immigration clearance counters in the general entry and exit halls of the terminal.