New Delhi: India has new rules regulating the issue of work visas for foreigners, but while these remove a cap on the number of foreigners a firm can hire and scrap a minimum stipulated salary, they seek to explicitly articulate the philosophy that should guide the hiring of foreigners: Indians first.
Previously, Indian firms had to limit their foreign hires to 1% of their workforce and pay them at least $25,000 a year (Rs11.68 lakh). Both restrictions have been scrapped in the new rules that were communicated to the ministry of external affairs by the ministry of home affairs in a letter dated 31 May. The ministry of external affairs then communicated the same to all Indian diplomatic missions.
The new rules came into effect immediately.
Pdf: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
The home ministry has also asked that only “skilled” foreign workers be given work visas. “We have instructed our missions not to issue visas for unskilled work...that can be simply performed by an Indian. Visas will only be issued to highly skilled people, who bring technical expertise into the country,” said a senior home ministry official, who did not want to be identified. This person added that India has a population of 1.2 billion and any employment opportunity should first be made available to Indians. The official said that the 1% policy was put in place at the request of the labour ministry, but that it was never really followed.
India’s labour secretary Prabhat Chaturvedi clarified that the cap had been misunderstood. “The policy stated that an Indian embassy abroad can clear employment visas only up to 1% (of a company’s workforce) at its end. In case the employer demanded more visas, the matter would be referred to the labour ministry.” He said he wasn’t aware about the recent changes in rules.
India’s rules for issuing work visas to foreigners have been continually evolving. The salary stipulation that has now been scrapped, for instance, was instituted only in April.
“We had to withdraw it after feedback from the diplomatic missions, which in their report said that such policy would severely impact flow of workers especially from Eastern Europe. Now, there is no such income policy in place for any country,” the official cited in the first instance said.
Interestingly, details of this salary stipulation first came to light after it had been scrapped. On 2 July, The Times of India reported the case of a Ukrainian woman who had approached the Bombay high court against the ministry of external affairs, challenging the policy that mandated a minimum annual salary of $25,000 for a work visa.
She did this after her application to work in India was rejected. An officer from the consular section in the Indian embassy in Ukraine, who did not want to be identified, said her application had been rejected on the basis of then prevailing rules. An official at the ministry of external affairs said the rules are aimed at “protecting Indians and Indian jobs”.
However, the new rules will be cheered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs); foreigners applying for a work visa in India to work at or volunteer in such organizations will now be given visas—a change from the earlier regime. “Such people were earlier facing problems; now they will be given employment visa even if their income from their NGO is nil,” said a second home ministry official, who also did not want to be identified.