The 1,000-odd foreign nationals who are in the country to participate in Tablighi Jamaat activities could be barred from returning over violation of their visa conditions, a government official said on Tuesday. The official said most of them had entered the country on tourist visas, but appeared to be involved in activities that require a missionary visa.
The visa status of the foreign Tablighi Jamaat workers came into focus after 24 people living in the headquarters of the religious sect in Delhi's Nizamuddin area tested positive for coronavirus on Monday. Authorities rushed to evacuate the five-storey building and test the hundreds of inmates who were still around for the highly contagious Sars-Cov-2 virus. More than 300 others have symptoms of Covid-19, a Union home ministry statement issued on Tuesday evening said.
The home ministry said 1,203 Jamaat workers at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz had been medically screened, an exercise that started on March 26. Those who had symptoms have been sent to hospitals; others to state-run quarantine centres at Narela, Bakkarwala and Sultanpuri. By the evening, the government said, every Jamaat worker would be moved out of Nizamuddin Markaz.
The home ministry also cited several messages that had been sent to the states alerting them to the need to locate, identify and screen the foreign and Indian workers of the sect. One of the earliest messages was sent on March 21, after one of the Jamaat volunteers was reported positive for the virus.
The last one was on March 29 from the Intelligence Bureau director, telling state police chiefs to track down these workers and their contacts for the Sars-Cov-2 pathogen.
Simultaneously, the home ministry has also asked state police officials to report back if their activities were consistent with their visa. A senior government official suggested that all of them appeared to have violated their visa conditions since they entered the country on a tourist visa, not a missionary visa.
Of the 1,746 persons staying in Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz on March 21, the home ministry said 216 were foreigners and 1,530 were Indians. Apart from them, there were 824 foreign Tablighi Jamaat workers in different parts of the country for missionary work.
The security establishment carries out rigorous checks for requests for a missionary visa as compared to tourist visa applications.
"Usually, all the foreign nationals visiting India as a part of the Tabligh team come on the strength of a tourist visa. MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) had already issued guidelines that they should not indulge in missionary work on tourist visa. State Police would be examining categories of visas of all these foreign TJ workers and take further action in case of violation of visa conditions," the home ministry statement confirmed.