A new liberalized E-visa regime has come into effect from April 1, 2017. It will bring cheer to citizens from 161 nations around the world planning to visit India. The window period for online applications and period of stay in India have simultaneously been enhanced. The conventional process of granting visas by Indian diplomatic missions, however, will not be discontinued.
The system of E-visa has actually evolved over the last seven years. On the New Year’s Day, 2010 India launched Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVOA) limited to nationals from five countries Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand. A year the government decided to extend the scheme to nationals to nationals from Cambodia, Laos Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia.
The system received a boost after the change in the government at the centre. In order to make travelling to India a seamless experience, the facility of Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) enabled with Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) was launched on September 27, 2014. The TVoA-ETA was different in purport and scope. It was an online pre-authorization of visa given to nationals from 43 countries entering India through nine designated international airports. They could apply for visa over indiavisaonline.gov.in website. The visa could be handed over to them on arrival. It would be a single entry visa valid for 30 days.
However, the nomenclature TVoA-ETA was also source of confusion. Many tourists presumed that the visa would be granted on landing at the airport. Some arrived without applying online or procuring one from local Indian Embassy. Therefore a committee of officers from Home Ministry, Ministry of External Affairs and Bureau of Immigration (BoI) was constituted to formulate a new name consistent with the policy. A naming contest on mygov.in threw up “e-Tourist Visa” the best choice. The scheme was renamed as e-Tourist Visa (eTV) with effect from April 15, 2015. By that time around 1, 10,000 (One lakh ten thousand) visas had already been issued by the government under TVoA-ETA. By the end of 2015, a total of 113 countries had been brought under the scheme’s ambit. By August, 2016 the number had gone up to 150.
Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Tourism informed Lok Sabha on February 6, 2017 that the number of foreign tourist arrivals to India for various purposes was 7.68 million, 8.03 million and 8.90 million (provisional) during 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Of them the numbers of arrivals on e-Visa were 0.39 lakhs, 4.45 lakhs and 10.80 lakhs for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Tourists from 149 countries availed the e-Visa facility.
The union cabinet had decided to liberalize, simplify and rationalize the visa regime on November 30, 2016 with a view to promote ease of business, encourage economic growth and increase foreign exchange earnings. The same was enforced recently with effect from April 1. E-visa has now been Tourist, Business, Medical and Employment categories. New categories like Intern visa and Film visa have also been added.
The E-visa facility is now available for nationals of 161 countries for entry through 24 airports as well as 3 seaports (Cochin, Goa and Mangalore) to tap cruise tourists from different countries. Mumbai and Chennai seaports will also be covered under E-visa facility soon. The window period for application under E-visa scheme has been increased from 30 days to 120 days to allow tourists plan their trip better. The stay duration has also been increased from 30 days to 60 days with double entry on E-Tourist and E-Business visa and triple entry on E-Medical visa. For the benefit of the medical tourists separate immigration counters and facilitation desks have been provided at some of the Indian airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad that receive bulk of such tourists.
Now nationals from most of the countries can obtain multiple entry visas for tourism and business purposes valid for 5 years period. Business medical visas could be granted within 48 hours of application in urgent cases. Ninety four Indian missions having biometric enrollment facilities started give 5-year multiple entry visas from March 1, 2017. The remaining diplomatic missions will follow the suit in due course.
The NDA government appears to made bolder moves in the area than the previous UPA-II government. Things have moved faster on the E-visa issue since 2014. The new visa regime is likely to make India a more favourable tourism destination. It will facilitate the Make in India programme that require multiple business visits by foreign investors. The scheme is also in sync with the vision of Digital India. The move is also likely to reduce the manual load off the diplomatic missions. Their visa windows will, however, remain open to those wanting to apply by offline method. But various countries around the world are also opting for E-visa route. No wonder India has decided to move with the times.
* The writer is an independent researcher and columnist based in New Delhi. The views expressed are his personal.