‘Donkey routes’ uncovered: How agents use visa-on-arrival to smuggle Indians to US and Canada | India News

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NEW DELHI: The visa-on-arrival service offered by certain countries to Indian nationals has been exploited by agents as ‘Donkey Routes‘ for individuals attempting to enter the United States and Canada illegally. An investigation conducted by Delhi police, Bureau of Immigration and other security agencies revealed that agents take advantage of passengers by sending them to countries that provide visa-on-arrival to Indian citizens, arranging routes that enable illegal border crossings into the desired destination countries.
ANI reported that in response to the increasing incidents of visa and passport fraud enabling illegal immigration, the Indira Gandhi International Airport Police have arrested 108 fraudulent agents.
According to a senior officer, a frequently used strategy involves sending passengers with counterfeit Schengen visas to easily accessible European countries such as Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan. From there, they are routed through Central American or Caribbean nations like Guatemala and Costa Rica to reach the USA. The officer said, “These policies are intended for tourists but are being misused to facilitate illegal immigration.”
Usha Rangnani, DCP of IGI Airport, reported that in the first half of 2024, Delhi Police arrested 11 agents involved in sending passengers via donkey routes. She mentioned a recent case where a passenger was deported from the USA for being an illegal migrant. The passenger had traveled to the USA in 2017 using a donkey route, assisted by two agents who charged him Rs 20 lakhs for the service.
The officer elaborated on the passenger’s arduous journey, saying, “These agents arranged the entire journey, directing him through Dubai, Cuba, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, and finally to the USA. Throughout this harrowing journey, the passenger went through severe hardships, often going hungry and sleepless. His original passport was confiscated by the agents, and despite reaching the USA and securing work there, his life took a turn in 2023 when he got into a quarrel in Chicago which led to his imprisonment for approximately nine months. Eventually, as an illegal immigrant, he was deported, rendering all his efforts and the risks he took to reach the USA ultimately futile.”
It was also noted that ‘Donkey routes’ are used for illegal immigration to Asian countries as well. In another reported case, two Rajasthan-based agents were arrested for arranging a passenger’s journey to Thailand on a tourist visa. After reaching Thailand, the agent facilitated the passenger’s illegal entry into Malaysia via a Donkey Route, exploiting the porous borders between the two countries. The passenger stayed and worked in Malaysia, and to make his entry appear legitimate, the agent affixed a fake Thailand Immigration stamp on his passport. However, when the passenger returned to India to visit his family, he was apprehended by Immigration Officers at the airport, as the Visa on Arrival (VoA) stamp from Thailand was dated October 2022, while the passport issue date was May 2023, confirming the VoA stamp as fake.

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