In October 2020, I was added to India’s blacklist and couldn’t return to my wife and family in India until it expired 500 days later.
In this post, I’ll cover exactly what India’s blacklist is and everything I did to try to get removed from it.
The following information is to the best of my knowledge. There is no official information available about the blacklist that I could find.
What is India’s blacklist?
According to the Indian Express, the blacklist is:
A list containing the names of Indian citizens and foreigners against whom a “look out circular” (LOC) has been issued.
This list is maintained by the Foreigners Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
It is sent to all Indian diplomatic missions across the world, as well as to immigration checkposts within the country.
At present, there are nearly 30,000 individuals, including foreign nationals, in the blacklist.Rahul Tripathi, The Indian Express, 26/02/2018.
The blacklist is a secret document, and its existence only became known in the 1990s when Sikhs abroad were being denied entry to India.
Before issuing a visa, an Indian Embassy or High Commission will check the applicant’s name is not on the blacklist, and if it is, they will be denied.
The High Commission will likely then contact the applicant to inform them their visa is denied because of an order from the MHA, i.e. the blacklist. They’re unlikely to give any other specific information and will tell the applicant to contact the MHA.
Likewise, if someone on the blacklist turns up at an Indian airport, their current visa will be voided, and they will not be allowed to enter India.
What is a Look Out Circular?
To get on the blacklist, a Look Out Circular (LOC) must be issued for that person.
LOC is used by investigating agencies and courts to get suspects awaiting trial to surrender.
When the subject of the LOC appears at a border, the border official will see the LOC alert.
Investigators must submit a written request, providing details regarding the individual’s involvement in a crime, to an officer notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The officer should not be below the rank of deputy secretary to the Government of India, joint secretary in a state government, superintendent of police at the district level or in CBI/NIA, zonal director in NCB, deputy commissioner in DRI, assistant director of Intelligence Bureau or bureau of immigration, deputy secretary in R&AW, assistant director of Enforcement Directorate, among others.
LOCs can also be issued on the direction of any criminal court in India.Rahul Tripathi, The Indian Express, 26/02/2018.
A key point is that the LOC should be issued in relation to a crime. If you haven’t committed a crime, you should challenge the issuance of a LOC.
These requests follow a standard format, which includes at least three identifying factors such as full name, passport number, date and place of birth, and photo if available.
The LOC indicates contact information for the originator of the circular as well as the action requested by the originator if the subject of the lookout is encountered.
A LOC is valid for 12 months but can be extended.
What is the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO)?
The FRRO, or Foreigners Regional Registration Office, is a vital component of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Indian government.
It oversees the registration, movement, stay, and departure of foreign nationals within the country.
The FRRO is instrumental in managing visa extensions and various immigration-related services, contributing significantly to the regulation and security of foreign nationals within India.
They have offices in all major Indian cities.
How is the blacklist used by the Government?
In 2021, about 12 Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) were blacklisted for supporting the 2020-2021 Indian farmers protests.
From this, we can infer that Indian diplomatic missions worldwide watch and report on “anti-national” activities in foreign countries.
What effect does this have on foreigners with ties to India and Indians living abroad? No comment.
How long are blacklistings for? Do they expire?
Because there’s so little official information available, I’m not sure how they judge how long a name should be on the blacklist.
In my case, someone decided on 500 days. In others, I’ve heard 5 years.
Whatever it is, there is a date in the blacklist which specifies when a name expires and will be removed from it.
Keep in mind that blacklistings can be extended.
If you have information to add to this post, please contact me.
How to get off India’s blacklist
At some point, you’ll find out you’ve been blacklisted, and it’ll likely be when you apply for your next visa or if immigration officials cancel your current visa when you exit India.
In my case, while applying for a new visa in Dubai, they called me into the Consulate General of India, Dubai office and told me to my face.
Unfortunately, India doesn’t have immigration tribunals like other countries, so here’s what you need to do to try to get off India’s blacklist.
Document everything that happens
Keep a detailed diary of everything that happens:
- what happened,
- who it happened with,
- where it happened,
- and date & time.
Ask for the full name and job title of any Government official who contacts you. Log their phone number, date & time of call, duration of the call, and what was said. Record calls if possible.
You’ll need all this to tell an accurate story of what has happened.
Hire a lawyer
Don’t waste your time trying to do it on your own.
Manisha and I tried to do it alone by writing emails to the Ministry of Home Affairs and even visiting them in person.
We wanted to ask them why I was blacklisted and the end date. But it didn’t work. Everyone we contacted in the Government of India ignored us. This is standard business practice.
Eventually, we found out that only a positive input from your local Indian Embassy can help you get off the blacklist.
But how likely is it that an Ambassador or High Commissioner will come to your rescue?
And you must remember, why would anyone put their neck out for you at the risk of getting in trouble and losing their government job?
You must hire an Indian lawyer in India. I initially called some lawyers in New Zealand, but they have no idea about law outside of New Zealand.
Try to find a lawyer with some experience with immigration cases and who is reputable. We found a lawyer with this experience by searching Indian news articles online (but he was useless).
Now, write letters to the Government of India departments
Most lawyers will advise filing a Writ Petition in a High Court of India. This should be your last course of action. You do this once you’ve exhausted all diplomatic avenues.
First, you should have your lawyer write letters to:
- Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO)
- Ministry of Home Affairs (MHO)
- Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)
- High Commissioner of your nearest Indian High Commission or the Ambassador of your nearest Indian Embassy.
In these letters, request information such as:
- What is the reason for the blacklisting?
- What date will I be removed from the blacklist?
- Is there a way we can resolve this issue out of court?
In the letter to the High Commissioner or Ambassador, you may want to appeal to them to take up your case and help have you removed from the blacklist.
You’re sending these letters to try to do everything you can do yourself to resolve this issue without going through a lengthy and expensive court process.
You are unlikely to get a reply from any of these agencies.
Filing a writ petition in a High Court
If the Government departments ignore you, now you have a record of everything you’ve tried to solve the situation yourself, and you have proof that you’ve been ignored.
Now your only option left is to petition the Indian Judiciary to assist you in minimum compelling the Government of India to provide you with the reasons and duration of the blacklisting.
At least finding out the duration will give you certainty about when you can reapply for an Indian visa.
At maximum, the Indian Judiciary can require the Government of India to remove you from the blacklist.
I was outside India, so our writ petition was filed under my wife’s name. We argued that two of her fundamental rights were violated without her husband.
However, a Writ Petition might not be right for you if you’re a foreign national. A writ petition can be filed if there is a violation of an Indian citizen’s fundamental rights by a government authority or body. Remember, my wife is an Indian citizen who filed in the Delhi High Court.
You’ll need a lawyer’s opinion on what would be right for your situation.
What will happen during the court process?
After a petition is filed, you will be assigned a judge and given a hearing date.
At the hearings, the Judge will ask various questions of your lawyers and the Government’s lawyers to find out what has happened and if it’s just.
It may take multiple hearings.
The Government may be asked to reply with all information relating to the blacklisting. Then, you’ll get a chance to respond to their allegations. This part is very important. You need a lawyer to do all the legal research, find errors and argue your case.
The Judge will read all these submissions and then make their judgement.
Only your lawyer needs to be present at the hearings. Our hearings were all done over Zoom, with many other lawyers waiting for their turn in the lobby.
The Court operates on a list system where you’re assigned a number. The lower the number, the more likely your case will be heard that day.
Expect delays in court
Be aware that hearings are frequently delayed because Courts in India are overburdened. It’s not uncommon for your case to be assigned from one Judge to another during the process too.
In our case, it was delayed so much that my blacklisting expired, the Government didn’t extend it, so I just returned to India. Our lawyer told us the case was solved now that I’m back.
The Court’s decision
If you’re unhappy with the High Court’s judgement, you can appeal to the Supreme Court of India for a final decision.
What’s the benefit of fighting your blacklisting?
Even if you don’t get anywhere in court, at least you’ve sent a message that you will fight!
You must always fight in India, or you will get trampled over.
I took inspiration a long time ago from this quote:
Unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. In this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength.A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
A warning on hiring lawyers in India
Lawyers charge different rates. Our lawyer massively overcharged us, and I regret it. But it was my first time dealing with lawyers in India, and I was hiring while stuck outside the country.
I’m told that you can pay a lawyer on a per-court-visit basis. I’d do that next time rather than paying a lump sum to someone.
There are some Indian visa/immigration support companies online. But beware, there’s very little they can do. At the maximum, they may have a contact at the FRRO and be able to find out the reason for blacklisting.
Be careful; I’ve heard from other foreigners about lawyers trying to charge massive amounts (up to 15 lakhs or $18,000) to assist with their blacklist cases. The average charge seems to be around 3 lakhs, and even this is too much.
What are the chances of getting off the blacklist?
I’m sorry to say that, from my experience, I wouldn’t get your hopes up that you’ll get your name off the blacklist early.
There are so many lies, delay tactics, and congestion that, like in my case, nothing happens, and you just return after the blacklist expires.
So don’t sit around waiting. Make use of the time you have to spend away from India. Make some good come out of it.
If you have information to add to this post, please contact me.
If this post has helped you, please leave a comment.