Nepal deports foreign tandem paraglider pilots in clampdown in Pokhara

Andy Pag reports from Pokhara on a visa crisis for foreign tandem pilots in Nepal

Veteran Canadian tandem pilot Grey Hamilton's passport, stamped with an exit visa requiring his immediate departure from Nepal. Photo: Grey Hamilton

Veteran Canadian tandem pilot Grey Hamilton’s passport, stamped with an exit visa requiring his immediate departure from Nepal. Photo: Grey Hamilton

International tandem pilots working under tourist visas in Pokhara, Nepal are facing deportation for working illegally.

At least six pilots have already been deported, while an estimated 30 other tandem pilots have been required to submit their passports to the authorities.

The deported pilots include two Serbian, one Canadian, one Romanian, and two others.

The move comes against a background of confusion over new visa rules for foreigners working as tandem pilots in Pokhara.

To date, Nepal has no specific visa for overseas tandem pilots working seasonally in the country, and the use of a tourist visa, which costs about $2US a day, has been universally tolerated by authorities.

However, at the start of October this year the Nepali Airsports Association (NAA) asked all overseas tandem pilots working in Pokhara to submit their passports so they could be issued with a newly created working visa. The NAA told the foreign tandem pilots that the new working visa would cost the equivalent of $1 a day.

Pilots had expected the process to take three days, but almost two months later the passports are still being held by immigration in Kathmandu, a five hour drive from Pokhara.

Pilots who have requested the return of their passport from immigration have had to pay an $80 fine for working illegally. Their passports have also been stamped with an exit visa requiring their immediate departure and preventing re-entry until next year.

Many of the tandem pilots have also seen their valid tourist visas expire while in the custody of immigration, resulting in further fines of $3US for each day overstayed.

About 50 foreign tandem pilots work in Pokhara during the autumn and spring season, and tandem paragliding is a must-do activity for many of the thousands of trekkers and other tourists who pass through the city. As a gateway town to some of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal, Pokhara is one of the busiest tandem paragliding sites in the world.

The French embassy has reportedly told French tandem pilots working in Pokhara that they can not intervene because the pilots were technically breaking the law by working under a tourist visa.

Some of the foreign tandem pilots have voiced anger over what they feel is an aggressive strategy by immigration designed to oust them from seasonal jobs which they have held, in some cases, for years.

Meanwhile, the falling value of the Nepali rupee, restrictions on the number of flights tandem pilots can do, and road-block controls on the drive to launch have lead many pilots declare this will be their last season in Pokhara.

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