Aiming to attract more tourists and boost trade, government today approved a new liberalised visa policy that include long-term multiple-entry comprehensive visa by merging tourist, business, medical and conference visas into one.
The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also decided to extend the e-Tourists Visa to eight more countries, taking the total number of countries which are under cover the scheme to 158.
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for liberalisation, simplification and rationalisation of the existing visa regime in India and incremental changes in the visa policy decided by the Ministry of Home Affairs in consultation with various stakeholders, an official statement said.
The approval will facilitate entry of foreigners for tourism, business and medical purposes. This is expected to stimulate economic growth, increase earnings from export of services like tourism, medical value travel and travel on account of business and to make 'Skill India', 'Digital India', 'Make in India' and other such flagship initiatives of the government successful.
This will also considerably ease the travel of foreigners to India for the above-mentioned legitimate purposes, the release said.
Tourists, businessmen or people coming for treatment or to attend conferences or even for film shoots will be covered under the new category of visa, which was first mooted by the Commerce Ministry following a suggestion by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to boost services trade.
The long-term, multiple-entry visa will be given upto 10 years but under this category the visitor will not be allowed to work or stay permanently, a government official said.
Except those covered under 10 year travel and trade visa policy, citizens of other countries would be offered five year multiple visa for travel and trade.
As per the proposal, if a foreigner is granted long-term, multiple-entry non-working or non-permanent stay visa and his or her stay is restricted to 60 days on a visit, the government may waive the visa fee as well.
However, the visitors have to give biometric details and fulfil certain security obligations, the official said.
The plan is part of the Commerce Ministry's initiatives to boost India's services trade.
India is said to be missing out on a huge opportunity worth about USD 80 billion annually in terms of attracting foreigners and foreign exchange.
Medical tourism in India alone is estimated at USD 3 billion and projected to grow to USD 7-8 billion by 2020.
Foreign patients travelling to India for medical treatment in 2012, 2013 and 2014 stood at 1,71,021, 2,36,898, and 1,84,298 respectively.
Small countries like Thailand attract millions of people whereas tourists flow in India is far less.
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To achieve the objectives of major government programmes like 'Make-in-India' and 'Digital India', the country needs to have an easy visa regime, the official said.
Business and health visa to be granted within 48 hours after submitting the application in case of emergency.
Citizens from Pakistan and China will not be covered under the new liberalised visa policy.
Government to establish help desk and immigration counter to help medical tourists.
Government to fix minimum salary limit to grant employment visa in Indian rupee in lieu of the US dollar.
Government to start issuing intern-visa for foreigners to do internships.
For sensitive countries, the government will consider extending group visa to tourists and business persons.
India will also allow tourists coming under the e-Visa to stay up to 60 days instead of 30 days now. Tourists also can apply for the e-Visa four months in advance instead of the 30 days now.
TVoA (tourist visa on arrival), enabled by Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), popularly known as e-Tourist Visa scheme, was launched on November 27, 2014.
Under the e-tourist visa scheme, an applicant receives an email authorising him or her to travel to India after it has been approved. The tourist can travel with a print-out of this authorisation.
On arrival, the visitor has to present the authorisation to the immigration authorities who would then stamp the entry into the country.
Till now, the scheme was extended to 150 countries at 16 Indian airports designated for providing e-tourist visa service. On an average, 3500 e-tourists visa are being granted every day.
The proposal for new category visa assumes significance as the services sector constitutes about 60 per cent of India's GDP but its share in global export of services remains at a low 3.15 per cent.
Services has emerged as a prominent sector in India in terms of its contribution to national and state income, trade flows and FDI inflows.
The sector contributes around 28 per cent to job creation. Its contribution to total trade is 25 per cent-- around 35 per cent to exports and 20 per cent to imports.