E-VISA: New lingo in the world of travel

Written by HumaSiddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 28 2014, 07:17am hrs
The governments new e-visa initiative will reduce paper work and provide easier visa facilitation for foreigners who visit India for tourism and business purposes

Huma Siddiqui

Winning tourists thats the major aim of the new government as it gets down to the task of dismantling complicated bureaucracy by bringing in visa-on-arrival or electronic visa (e-visa) for in-bound tourists. The budget for 2014-15 unfolded a slew of initiatives including six-month deadline for implementation of e-visas. The facility of e-visa authorisation is expected to be introduced in nine airports by December, in time for the peak tourist season with major source countries like the US, UK, Russia, Canada, France, Australia, Malaysia and Germany likely to be first off the block.

The new e-visa system is expected to provide the following benefits: prevent line-ups in front of the visa desks, at airports, reduce the workload of staff working at airports, save time for staff at Indian consulates and embassies, provide easier visa facilitation for foreigners that visit India for tourism and business purposes and increase the number of the visitors as well as tourism and foreign trade revenue.

Conservative government estimates say that India could receive 1.2 million additional tourists and receive earnings of $2.4 billion by 2015 if the e-visa facility is implemented. The prime ministers office (PMO) has given nod for e-visa for tourists from about 40 countries by December as part of the visa reforms.

The authorities are planning to include 109 nations once the first phase is successfully implemented. The electronic travel authorisation (ETA) enables foreign travelers to apply for a visa and receive online confirmation within five working days. The ETA will be available for a 30-day period from the day the tourists arrive in India. By early 2015, each of these nine airports can be equipped with the infrastructure necessary to make the e-visa proposal a reality.

The move would catapult India among the top four countries with visa-friendly policies. The ministry of home affairs, external affairs ministry, the National Security Advisor and all the related agencies have unanimously supported the introduction of electronic travel authorisation, said officials.

Until now, holidaymakers often had to wait for two weeks or more to receive approval to visit the country. They had to submit a lengthy online form, send the passport to the Indian High Commission along with photos and a pre-paid envelope for the documents to be returned. The application was so complicated that some tourists preferred to pay companies to fill out their visa form on their behalf.

India is ranked 39th in terms of foreign tourist arrivals and offers visa on arrival to tourists from 11 countries, though it has the highest per-capita spend of a tourist in any country in the world. During the past year, India has relaxed its visa regime and expanded the visa-on-arrival scheme to include more countries.

The reason for this is to incentivise tourism to India, an industry that the current government does not believe it is exploiting to its fullest. Unsurprisingly, those in the tourism sector lauded the move, and hope to continue to upward trend that current numbers have shown for subcontinent-bound tourism. The total number of tourists visiting India has gone up 16% in the last five years, and is expected to go up by another 12% by 2020. Those numbers equate to hundreds of millions of people in total, and can generate millions of jobs within India.

Although the specific airports that would be involved with this proposal have not been named as yet, it stands to reason that air travel hubs in Indias biggest citiesNew Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, and Kochi, among otherswill be included in this programme.

There is a quiet revolution going on in the world of visa policies, as the world is moving towards visa-on-arrival. Out of nearly 5,100 visa requirement changes globally over two-year period ending in 2012, a vast majority70%of these involved changing from visa required to enter a country to visa-on-arrival according to a new report by UNWTO World Tourism Organisation.

The countries most keen on opening up their travel policies are, not surprisingly, the emerging and newly ascendant economies including countries like China, India, Brazil and even Myanmar, as they fall over themselves to attract tourists, and more importantly, business travelers as way to spur and grow their economies.

The e-visas, the virtual visas that are delivered digitally and dont require visiting an embassy especially good for smaller countries lacking a global network of embassies and consulates or even presenting passport for stamping, are the biggest talked about future change coming. Australia and UAE are at the forefront of the E-visas movement.

Recently, China started a new policy where it now allows most foreign visitors to stay in Beijing and Shanghai for three days without a visa if they are heading on to another country. The scheme applies to 45 countries, thus giving business travel to these regions a huge boost. Myanmar, just opening up after decades of oppressive military rule, launched a business visa on arrival scheme for close to 30 countries for 2012 and is considering expanding a lot more this year. Turkey has more than doubled international arrivals in a decade by providing visas on arrival. Russia is finally encouraging visa-free travel to and from the European Union.

The south east Asian nations are moving to a common regional visa to promote economic development. The US, under the Obama administration, has finally realised the need to open up visas to spur travel, and over the last year or so has made it much easier for Brazilian, Chinese, Mexican, and Taiwanese travelers, among others, to come into US.

Put simply, visa-on-arrival is going to become the new lingo in the world of travel, and will give a big boost specifically to the business of business travel.