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India to shake up visa regime for easier access
Shekhar Niyogi, Kolkata, October 11, 2013

INDIA'S Planning Commission has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the country's visa regime that will streamline inbound travel, including expanding the scope of the visa-on-arrival programme and reducing the number of visa categories.


These ideas were mooted at a meeting at the Planning Commission’s grounds and attended by officials from the various ministries of home, external affairs, tourism, as well as officials from the intelligence bureaus and prime minister’s office.


The think tank has suggested India offer visa on arrival at four more airports – Goa International Airport, Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport, Chandigarh Airport and Gaya Airport. The service is currently available at eight international airports including New Delhi, Kochi and Hyderabad.


It also wants the government to increase the number of countries allowed visas on arrival to include the US, UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain, among others, on top of the 11 countries it currently allows.


Planning Commission has also lobbied for a global online visa application system and the reduction of visa categories from 16 to just three: employment, business and visitor.


Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said: “We wanted to develop a world-class visa regime. We will write to the home minister on the outcome of the meeting aimed at liberalising the visa regime.


“The tourism ministry was willing to share its budget with the home ministry so that more officers can be posted on immigration counters to facilitate visas on arrival.”


Gainwell Travel & Leisure’s general manager, Seema Ahmad, noted: “There have been difficulties in obtaining travel visas to India in the past, which could have led to an unusually low rate of inbound tourists. The new revised visa norms should definitely augment inbound arrivals, by about 20 to 25 per cent annually.”


Planning Commission’s proposal has yet to be ratified by the relevant ministries, but is expected to be rushed through in the run-up to the general elections of 2014 and in order to boost India’s dismal current account deficit.  


“I believe that extending the visa-on-arrival facility to tourists from the UK, US, France and Germany, which are our traditional source markets and contribute close to 40 per cent of our inbound arrivals, will have a very positive impact in terms of earning more foreign exchange and developing our inbound tourism,” said Peter Kerkar, director, Cox & Kings.


Kerkar added that allowing secondary airports to issue visas on arrival would spare tourists the additional burden of landing in major airports and then travelling to secondary destinations.


“The government has now firmly signalled its intent to move towards a more liberalised visa regime. We are requesting the Home Ministry and other agencies to ensure that the requisite infrastructure, in terms of technology and personnel, is provided, so that this welcome initiative can be in operation at the earliest,” said SM Shervani, president, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India.



- Additional reporting by Rohit Kaul

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