Indian passports fare poorly, but are a prized item in fertile market of stolen documents

Don’t knock it so easily. The Indian passport has a lot of clout and comes with its own six pack of muscle. After all the effort to get one and the waiting and the filling of forms and the police verifications that little blue book feeds a thriving black market especially with reference to the Indian diaspora and its millions of workers abroad.

Arton Capital’s Passport Index might put the Indian document at 166 out of 199 but it has not factored in the ‘worth’ of the passport on the dark side of the market especially when you realise there is no country in the world where there are no Indians.

A stolen Indian passport with a valid residence visa in a Gulf country and a generic name like Kumar or Singh gives it a mobility of its own and it can be passed around like a communal cake especially if the facial features are bland and not outstanding.

The value of the theft of Indian passports rises according to the visas in its pages. A 10-year US visa is the jewel in the crown followed by a UK visa which is now almost impossible to get and the bronze goes to the Schengen visa. You have all three in your passport and a generic name that book could be worth as high as Rs 3 to Rs 10 lakhs. Fighting for a place on the podium are Australia and Canada where a visa stamped passport could go for as high as Rs 15 lakhs and given to a student.

 Indian passports fare poorly, but are a prized item in fertile market of stolen documents

Passports from around the world

Illegals who now number over a million and counting are usually blue collar workers who visit on transit and disappear into the system of a country selling their passport to make a living. Indian embassies and consulates in these nations that are labour-centric spend a lot of time tracking the bona fides of illegals when they are apprehended. It is a good way to have extremists get past your borders by claiming to be Indian.

Identity thieves love short term Indian visitors. They are ignorant, easy to con and trusting to the point of idiocy. See them at every airport in the world, laden with luggage and uncaring of their belongings. Fake Indian passports go for Rs 15000 to Rs 25000 but are not worth the risk since they seldom pass muster. But the genuine article has to protected from gangs who don’t mind snagging one especially in airports with careless travelers abound.

One of the ways most used, besides attacking a tourist or working in groups and distracting an unsuspecting traveler, is to 'buddy up' while waiting for a delayed flight. People purchase short haul tickets with the idea of making a buck by exploiting gullible passengers. It pays off. No wonder there was a time Heathrow was called Thiefrow.

Former Indian Ambassador to the US, Prabhu Dayal went on record saying that scores of Indians who had American passports had sold their Indian equivalents for a price to those whose ‘business’ interests were better served with dual passports.

But while the relatively benign misuse of family exchanges is routine and employed as a convenience (my brother looks just like me, nobody will know) the murkier side of this black-market is downright frightening. Indians with foreign documentation who sell their passports have no idea that they are promoting terrorism not tourism.

Terrorist outfits hold Indian documents in great esteem especially when they are unreported as having been swiped. No one understands or appreciates how dangerous it is to make a buck by selling a passport. The irony is that it is also the educated segment of the diaspora that engages in this exercise and feeds those who do not wish our country well.

Ergo, since Indian air passengers are among the most naïve and happy to leave their luggage in the care of ‘new’ friends, ‘lost’ and ‘stolen’ passports are common. Identity theft through a passport is also common and Interpol has on record cases where Indian passports have been used by criminals. Think of it. Over 25,000 passports are reported stolen or misplaced annually. Those that are sold illegally would be many times more.

That makes for a fertile global market.

Indian passports are way above number 166 on the merit list in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UK and the US.

The paradox of this ‘popularity’ is that the Indian passport is user friendly and fits a wide range of profiles unlike the US or UK equivalents which would much sooner raise flags of warning.

Here is Mr S Kumar walking into Immigration clutching his passport with a valid visa, how do you know he is not his brother?

Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 12:46:49 IST