Musafir Says

Limited offer

OPINION

So after years and years of bureaucratic planning and file pushing, India finally will grant visa on arrival to citizens of 43 countries. Three cheers. Or wait. This is undoubtedly a welcome step, and will ease travel from these countries. Most foreigners have had to wait several weeks before learning whether they would be allowed to enter India after submitting their applications at visa processing centres. This should speed up the process for many. It should help attract more tourists to India. So why is it incomplete?

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TOURIST VISA ON ARRIVAL

Visa on Arrival Facility is available for holders of passport of following countries:

Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Djibouti, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Myanmar, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue Island, Norway, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, UAE, Ukraine, USA, Vanuatu, Vietnam.

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It’s not about its implementation. The measure may have some initial glitches and travellers should be prepared for paper waving and gesticulating at some airports, but things should smoothen out after a while. Applicants of the Indian visa have generally had horror stories – from lost passports to denial due to inexplicable reasons. That should hopefully lessen.

“We want to promote tourism in the country in a big way. The contribution of tourism in the GDP is approximately 7 per cent and we want to double it up,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said after launching the facility. The new visa-on-arrival will be available at nine major airports in India. Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma said the change would be boost to the industry. The scheme was “a dream come true for the entire tourism industry of India and is bound to positively impact the economy,” he said in a statement.

Well that will take some doing. Meanwhile, reading the fine print becomes important in such cases. On 27 November, what became possible for citizens of over 40 countries including those who are eligible for visa on arrival, is that the Electronic Travel Authorisation facility became operational. After applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation visitors can fly to India where they obtain visa on arrival. So they need to apply for an e visa anyway (minus the 12 countries exempt). To see where your country figures, see map.

ETA is to be issued for tourism, visiting friends and family, short duration medical treatment and business visits. So far so good. It is what has not been addressed that is cause for concern, keeping in mind the roadmap ahead. Currently there are many exemptions, so even if you are an American or Mexican or Samoan citizen, please read the fine print. Journalists for example are not in this list. Nor are diplomats. Or business visitors. Or conference attendees, who for some strange reason still have to apply on a separate visa category. Conference arrangers have been pleading with the government for years that this is a totally unrequired category and needs to be scrapped. People whose parents are born in Pakistan cannot avail of this facility!

visa-map800
A map showing the different degrees of visa clearances required. And that’s just for the tourist visa

When I travelled to Thailand a couple of months ago, all I did by the way of regulatory preparation was dig out my passport and carry it. The Thai immigration staff stamped it in a few seconds, and I was in the city a major global publication has deemed the best city to live in the past five of seven years. That’s how a country facilitates entry. In India most of the citizens of these 43 countries will still have to get a paper ETA and will then be given visa on arrival. Try arriving without the ETA in India, and visitors are likely to discover that VoA is a limited offer. For most of the first world, it’s a visa less world – you are just shooed into each other’s countries. If you imagine its going to be something like that, well no it isn’t.

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Eligibility

International Travellers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sight seeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit.

Passport should have at least six months validity.

International Travellers should have return ticket or onward journey ticket, with sufficient money to spend during his/her stay in India.

International Travellers having Pakistani Passport or Pakistani origin may please apply for regular Visa at Indian Mission.

Not available to Diplomatic/ Official Passport Holders.

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The government has in the past said that all countries, except a few in the ‘prior list’, would be brought into the e-visa regime over the next two years. That would be a welcome step indeed, though they would need to act on that fast if India is to get more than 0.6 per cent of global inbound tourists. Yes, India had 6.7 million inbound tourists in the last calendar year, while Singapore had 12 million, Turkey had about 36 million, China 56 million and France topped it at 85 million. To tap into this, we need to act fast.

The other really inexplicable feature here, and no reason has been given for this – the puzzling list of countries chosen. While the 11 or 12 initial countries that have VoA (Check map – nations in light green) were more or less ‘friendly’ and ‘less risky’ nations – this list leaves out most countries that India draws a bulk of its tourists from – including the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, all of east Europe etc – countries that most lists are usually seen as lowest risk.

Instead a huge proportion of the list is Pacific nations. No judging, it’s just that any immigration staff or MEA official, leave alone any India, will be hard put to locate a tourist from Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Or Djibouti, and even Palestine. Count – that’s 13 of 43. How many of them contribute any significant number of tourists to India will be an interesting study, if MEA ever decides to release these figures. Why not Poland, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Estonia, Egypt, South Africa, etc? The only two countries on the list from Africa are Kenya and Djibouti. From South and Central put together – there’s one nation – Brazil. Why pray, not Argentina, or Costa Rica, or Bermuda, or Bahamas or Uruguay. Is it just lack of preparation or some other factor? Within Scandinavia, arguably blandly blameless and almost identical in all social and economic indicators, Finland, Norway and Sweden are all in different categories!

About 5.17 million foreign tourists have visited India during January-September. There has been talk of manifold rises in inbound tourism. It remains to seen just how much of spurt this move is able to give to inbound tourism. India’s hotels are crying for more tourists. Hopefully this step, however limited, is just a portent of more changes in the pipeline. That would truly put the incredible in India!

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TOURIST VISA APPLICATION PROCESS

Step 1
Apply online
Upload Photo and Passport Page

Step 2
Pay visa fee online
Using Credit / Debit card

Step 3
Receive ETA Online
ETA Will be sent to your e-mail

Step 4
Fly To India
Print ETA and carry at the time of travel

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How much does it cost? US $60. The fee must be paid at least four days before your expected date of travel. It is non-refundable.

How long is the visa valid for? It’s a single entry visa that’s valid for 30 days, from the time of entry. The visa is non-extendable and non-convertible.

Which Indian airports accept ETAs? Your ETA will be valid for entry at the following nine airports: Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Trivandrum.

How often can you get an ETA and visa on arrival? Twice in a calendar year, with a minimum gap of 60 days

Need Help with Your Application? Call +91-11-24300666 or email [email protected]

Musafir Namah Bureau

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