New Delhi: The government is considering a proposal to allow the so-called tourist visa-on-arrival facility to foreign nationals, barring those from countries that will be part of a negative list, in an effort to boost income from tourism.
A senior government official said that such a proposal is being considered, along with the one to extend the facility to 40 countries. The latter proposal was made by the Planning Commission.
At present, India extends such a facility to citizens of 11 countries—Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia.
In addition, senior citizens—people aged more than 65 years—from Pakistan are allowed a visa on arrival at the Attari-Wagha border in Punjab, for 45 days.
The foreign ministry said in an emailed statement that India had extended such facilities to citizens of these countries unilaterally.
“Instead of extending it to just 40 countries, we are looking at extending the visa-on-arrival facility to nationals from all countries, barring a specific list of countries,” the official cited in the first instance said.
He, however, added that a final decision hadn’t yet been made and this was as yet just a proposal. The official did not wish to be identified.
To be sure, even if a visa-on-arrival facility is extended, foreign nationals will be required to apply online for the visa in advance of their travel, the official said. “Their passports will be stamped on arrival,” he said.
Last week, Rajeev Shukla, minister of state for planning, said that the government was considering liberalizing its visa policy by extending the visa-on-arrival facility to citizens of 40 countries in a bid to promote tourism. Shukla said this after a 7 October meeting that considered the proposal.
The 40 countries to whose nationals visas-on-arrival could be extended are US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Malaysia, Australia, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Italy, Thailand, the Netherlands, Spain, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, the Maldives, Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Oman, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Kenya, Poland, Saudi Arabia, China Taiwan, Norway, Portugal, Ukraine, Mauritius, Ireland, Tanzania, Turkey, Brazil, Czech Republic, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Bahrain and Argentina.
“The TVOA (tourist visa on arrival) facility in India is operated by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). No circular expanding the list of TVOA countries has been received from MHA so far. Extension of TVOA facility to nationals of more countries is under consideration in Planning Commission. A final list of such countries will be announced by MHA as and when it will be finalized,” the foreign ministry statement said.
According to a background note prepared ahead of the 7 October meeting, India is seeking to liberalize its visa regime to boost tourism. In 2012, India received 6.58 million foreign tourists, generating $17.74 billion in revenue, said the note, adding that India ranked 41st in terms of global tourist arrivals.
“India is today considered one of the countries with very strict visa regime. The complaints have been received from many foreign nationals for citing the delays in grant of visa and seeking unnecessary details. The trend around the world is to simplify the procedures to create a visa regime with least barriers. The embarkation/disembarkation forms are being simplified or being done away with. The regular visas are giving way to no visas, e-visas, electronic travel authorizations, TVOA and long-term visas,” the note says.
The visa-on-arrival plan may help the country reach its target of 12 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2017, said Rajji Rai, special adviser to the Travel Agent Associations of India, a lobby group.
“India as a destination has been stupidly closed because of multiple visa restrictions. It is one of the most difficult countries in terms of getting visa, which takes somewhere around 15 days and can go up to 35-40 days,” said Rai. “If India can bring this visa-free regime, it will be a huge incentive for foreign tourists and a much-needed boost to tourism industry.”
Still, there are some concerns.
“ I am in principle not opposed to the idea, it’s doable,” said J.C. Sharma, former secretary, ministry of external affairs. “But what we need to understand is that creation of such a list of countries is a complex issue. There is a lot of migration taking place; people have more than one passport. Take the case of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana. Both were Pakistani but the former had a US passport and the latter a Canadian passport. There could be any number of such people...”
Both Headley and Rana are accused of providing logistic support in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“What we should do is make the system more effective,” Sharma said. “There should be better trained manpower at immigration check points, technical upgrades like taking photographs, updated information with photographs and data available at checkpoints so that suspicious people are found out immediately. Our manpower had to be trained in such a way that within asking a few questions one can get an idea of whether the information provided is correct or not. And all of this takes time. This cannot be done in a couple of months.”
Moulishree Srivastava contributed to this story.