Visa Policy: India and the World (Part II)
||8th October 2018
India’s visa policy has only seen significant reform in recent years. From making the application process completely online and to reducing the visa fee and time, India’s visa policy has become much easier which is already showing dividends.
The Indian tourist visa on arrival (TVoA), now called “e-tourist visa,” has undergone a lot of changes. Introduced in 2010, the TVoA was introduced and limited to nationals from five countries Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand to boost tourism in the country and attract more international tourists. Instead of going to an Indian embassy, travellers will have to apply and pay online then present a print-out at a point of entry in India. Applications must be made at least 72 hours to 30 days in advance of travel and once submitted would then be processed and an electronic travel authorization, or simply e-visa, via e-mail would be sent within 72 hours.At the end of November 2014, the central government reformed the visaon arrival scheme by introducing Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for all the 44 countries eligible for TVoAs. ETA meant that tourists had to apply for a visa online a few days in advance and carry a copy of that visa with them when they travel to India. (Since this is not technically the same concept as “visa on arrival”, the government finally changed the name of the scheme to e-tourist visa in April 2015). The change in policy did draw more takers among tourists, particularly from countries like the US and Russia.
The India e-Visa allows double entries for a stay of up to 60 days from date of first entry in India. A maximum of two e-Visas can be issued within one year whereas traditional Indian visa allows multiple visits to India and is generally valid for a stay of up to 90 days. Furthermore, since April 2017, E-Visa scheme for Tourist, Business and Medical purposes has been implemented. At present, the E-Visa is available for 163 countries with 25 designated airports and 5 designated seaports as entry points. Additionally, foreigners travelling to India on e-tourist visa are entitled to receive a BSNL SIM card which will be pre-activated and loaded with talk time and data. The visa fee is divided into four slabs of free, USD 25, USD 80 and USD 100, depending on nationality. Nepalese and Bhutan citizens are free to come and live for an indefinite time period, whereas citizens of Maldives do not require a visa. ToVA is also available for Japan and South Korea and rest of the selected countries can avail e-Visa.
The changes in Indian visa policy are already showing dividends in the form of number of arrivals through e-visa since 2010 increasing by68.8 per cent year-on-year to 1.01 millionduring the month of March 2018. With fast track e-Visa options for Medical visits, India is also emerging as an important medical destination. A few additional changes can make the visa process better. First, more countries should be included in the Visa on Arrival category since it will reduce time, effort and make travelling to India much easier. Although mentioned as one of the initiatives under Incredible India 2.0, ‘transit visas’ should be encouraged through minimal fees which will let a citizen choose India as a transit point. Successful business destinations like Singapore and Dubai have relaxed transit visa rules thus attracting people from around the globe to visit even for a short duration. Moreover, the validity of E-Visa can be increased up to 90 days to give tourists more time to discover what the country has to offer. Furthermore, the E-Visa should also allow for other modes of travel such as by road which has not been the case so far.
To conclude, since 2014 the visa process has become much easier and simpler thus attracting substantial international tourists. With schemes like Swadesh Darshan Yojana, PRASHAD and Incredible India 2.0 already helping in structuring Indian tourism, the country is bound to emerge as an important travel destination in the coming years. A robust yet easy visa process will definitely help in attracting more international tourists which will be fruitful for India economically and culturally.