Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

After the international border opened on September 23, a total of 199 tourists have entered Phuentsholing from the Pedestrian Terminal as of September 27. Of this total, 162 are from India and 37 from other countries.

As per immigration records, the number of casual visitors entering and exiting Phuentsholing has ranged from 1,301 to 3,040 daily. Bhutanese entering and exiting have ranged between 1,137 and 3,053 daily.

The total number of people entering and exiting the terminal has been between 10,500 to 13,000 daily.

Department of Immigration Director General, Pema L Dorji said the number of people entering and exiting the Pedestrian Terminal has been overwhelming.

“But we are managing despite the tremendous pressure and workload on immigration and RBP personnel deployed at the terminal,” he said, adding that de-suups have helped manage the orderly flow of people at the entry and exit gates and within the terminal.  “They have also been assisting people with pre-registration and we remain deeply grateful to the de-suups.”

Given the long operating time of the terminal (six am to 11pm) every day, including on weekends and holidays, the workload on immigration personnel is substantial, he said.

Currently, immigration officials have two shifts – from six am to two pm – and one from two pm to 11pm. Each shift comprises 22 immigration personnel. There are a total of 24 counters at the terminal.

DG Pema L Dorji said, “The staff strength in Phuentsholing needs to be increased urgently given the workload at the Pedestrian Terminal.”

About 11 immigration personnel have also been deployed to the Work Force Management Centre at Amochhu, a one-stop centre for processing and issuing work permits to foreign workers. Immigration is currently pursuing the re-deployment of immigration personnel from other regions such as Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu and Thimphu to Phuentsholing.

Meanwhile, the massive rush of people has resulted in long queues at both the entry and exit gates.

“We fully appreciate and recognise that waiting in a queue can be frustrating and annoying, especially in hot and humid weather conditions or when it rains,” Pema L Dorji said.

“However, we appeal to everyone to be patient and solicit their understanding and support. Immigration clearance is mandatory when crossing any international border and we are doing everything possible to facilitate quick clearance.”

Clearance for an individual who is pre-registered takes about 15 seconds, while it takes one minute for those who are not pre-registered.

Authorities are urging people to pre-register at www.bms.doi.gov.bt so that clearance is seamless and quick. Pre-registration is one time only and there is no need to pre-register every day.

As of September 28 (at 9am), a total of 28, 809 individuals have pre-registered and obtained QR code.  A mobile app for pre-registration will also be launched soon.

Some issues due to power outages were also reported on the first day of the re-opening, which have been addressed.

In the past few days, queues have become shorter and immigration clearance at the terminal has been faster.

Many people have raised concerns about not being allowed to cross the border without original documents. Officials said people must bring the required identity documents such as a citizenship identity card, passport, or permit issued by the DoI or Department of Civil Registration and Census in original.

Indian nationals must produce a voter identity card or passport for immigration clearance. All other nationalities must produce their passports.

Foreign workers, including day workers, should have a valid work permit or work authorisation issued by the Department of Labour (DoL) along with their identity documents for immigration clearance.

Employing a day worker without prior work authorisation is an immigration offence and employers must obtain work authorisation from the DoL to hire a day worker. Day workers are not allowed to halt the night.