Since the re-opening of the border in the south on 23 September, around 10,000 to 13,000 people are entering and exiting the country via the Pedestrian Terminal in Phuentsholing everyday.
As of 28 September, about 22,293 people have entered and exited the country. The figure is from all the gates along the border. So far, the entry and exit of people across the southern border has been smooth and without any major problems since 23 September 2022.
However, the new system at the terminal experienced which saw a few minor glitches, is expected to fully stabilize soon. Nevertheless, the IT experts are monitoring the functioning of the system on a real time basis at the terminal, and whenever there are issues, they are being addressed promptly.
There are a total of 24 counters at the Pedestrian Terminal, and they currently have 2 shifts of immigration personnel from 6 am to 2 pm and from 2 pm to 11 pm. Each shift comprises of 22 immigration personnel.
The Director of Department of Immigration (DoI), Pema L Dorji, said that as expected, the number of people entering and exiting the Pedestrian Terminal in Phuentsholing has been substantial, however, they are managing despite the tremendous pressure and workload on immigration and RBP personnel deployed.
In addition, DeSuups have been extremely helpful in managing the orderly flow of people at the entry and exit gates and within the terminal.
He said, “Given the long operating hours of the terminal from 6 am to 11 pm every day, including on weekends and holidays, the workload on the deployed personnel, immigration staff, in particular, are extensive, but we are providing the best possible service to all travelers.”
Consequently, this has resulted in long queues at both the entry and exit gates. They are mindful that waiting in a queue can be frustrating and annoying, especially in the hot and humid weather conditions and when it rains.
This is why, he said that they would encourage people to pre-register because if they do so, it takes just 15 seconds to get the clearance, while those who are not pre-registered, takes about 1 minute. A mobile App for pre-registration is to be launched soon. Pre-registration is one time registration wherein they need not have to register every day.
Bhutanese citizens have to produce either their original CID or a passport for immigration clearance at the terminal. The photocopy of the documents or driving license will not be entertained for immigration clearance.
The travellers are reporting fewer cases of harassment now since most of them understand the system.
DoI attaches the high importance and priority to providing the best possible service to everyone, and thereby, the department urges individuals to report any instances where they may have been treated unfairly or harassed by officials, the DoI Director said.
As notified earlier, he said, “To avoid inconveniences and denial of immigration clearance, we urge people to ensure that they bring the required original documents, like CID, passport or permit card without which we won’t allow the approval.”
For the Indians, they must produce either the Indian voter ID card or passport, while all other nationalities must produce a passport. Foreign workers including day workers should have a valid work permit or work authorization issued by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources along with their identity documents for immigration clearance.
Employing a day worker without prior work authorization is an immigration offence, DoI Director said, adding that they request employers to obtain work authorization from the Labour Ministry to employ a day worker. Day workers are not allowed to halt for the night.
“Luggage screening is an integral part of any border control mechanism, and will continue to be enforced. It is particularly important and necessary from the security perspective as well as to prevent or detect smuggling of illicit goods and contraband items,” he said.
For those inter-district commuters via India road, he said that they need not have to go through the terminal or scan their language, as they can directly do CPMS and make an entry or exit.
However, individuals coming inside Bhutan from Jaigoan will have to scan their entire luggage. Immigration clearance is mandatory when crossing any international border, and immigration officials are doing everything possible to facilitate quick clearance so that wait time is minimized.
Given the workload the current staff strength in Phuentsholing Pedestrian Terminal needs to be increased urgently. They are currently pursuing re-deployment of immigration personnel from other regions such as Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu and Thimphu to augment the staff, DoI Director said.
For processing and issuing work permits to foreign workers, 11 immigration personnel were deployed at the Work Force Management Center at Amochu.
“Our objective is to leverage ICT, and eventually, we plan to roll-out a state-of-the-art system for border management and border control such as e-Gates in the near future. Once we are confident that the system is functioning seamlessly, we intend to deploy the same system at all other land border crossings and Paro International Airport,” he added.