Home >politics >policy >India may hit reset on visa policy

New Delhi: The commerce ministry has suggested a reset in India’s visa policy regime by clustering visas into work and non-work categories and providing long-term multiple entry visas for tourism and business travel purposes.

At present, India issues several types of non-work visas for tourism, study, medical treatment among other purposes with different periods of validity while work visas include both business visas and employment visas.

The commerce ministry has proposed that business travel visas be put in the non-work category.

Employment visas in India are meant largely for inter-corporate transfers of multinationals, currently with a salary threshold of $25,000 per annum.

“If you want to bring more trade and investment into the country, visas need to be put in two broad categories of work and non-work visas. The non-work visas will cover business and travel visas. Work visas will be applicable only when you are seeking employment in India," a commerce ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Several rounds of talks between the commerce, home and external affairs ministries have been held and now it is up to the home ministry to take the matter forward, the official said.

“We have proposed making non-work visas long-term and multi-entry so that foreigners do not have to go to missions again and again. The present system makes the process tedious as issuing a visa requires huge documentation," he said.

Arpita Mukherjee, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said that a minimum six-month visa for business purposes with multiple entry is the standard international norm and India must follow suit.

“Other government agencies may have security concerns that can be mitigated using technology. Most countries are now following iris and fingerprint scans to facilitate multiple entries," she added.

If implemented, the changes in visa norms will amount to further liberalizing the e-tourist visa regime rolled out for 150 countries by the Narendra Modi government.

According to the World Tourism Organization, India ranked 40th in terms of international tourist arrivals in 2015.

The ministry of tourism earlier this month said a total of 36,982 tourists arrived in India in June on e-tourist visas as compared to 15,557 during the month in 2015, registering a growth of 137.7%.

Cumulatively, during January-June 2016, a total of 471,909 tourists arrived on e-tourist visas as compared to 126,214 during January-June 2015, registering a growth of 273.9%.

While the US contributed 23.22% of total tourist arrivals in India during the January-June period, the UK and China contributed 14.16% and 6.91%, respectively.

Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman last month said that visa restrictions were impacting business and trade. “These are the irritants we want to remove. However, there are also security constraints and there are countries with whom we want to be cautious," she said.

The relaxation of visa rules is part of India’s efforts to boost its services exports, which include selling Indian tourism services abroad.

While services contribute 57% to India’s $2 trillion economy, the country’s net services exports amounted to a meagre $73 billion in 2013-14, in which software alone accounted for $69 billion. India has a share of 3.4% of the global services trade, while China has 4.6%.

While earlier the view was that India should liberalize its visa regime only on a reciprocal basis, now the commerce ministry is in favour of unilateral liberalization.

The commerce ministry is citing Indonesia as an example. The South-East Asian country recently extended its free 30-day visa on arrival to citizens of 169 countries. The move is part of an effort to boost the island nation’s economy through tourism, with a target of 20 million visitors by 2019.

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