Govt puts e-visas on fast track

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Published: November 17, 2014 2:12:30 AM

The new e-visa system will provide easier visa facilitation for foreigners who visit India for tourism and business purposes

The much awaited e-visa system for in-bound tourists is expected to be rolled out soon in India for select countries including US and Japan. The government’s new e-visa initiative is aimed at reducing paper work and providing easier visa facilitation for foreigners who visit India for tourism and business purposes. While Australia is likely to be the first country to be accorded the e-visa facility, some countries belonging to BRICS and African region are likely to be announced in the first phase.

Government officials said that all the arrangements, including the software for e-visa system is ready now and will be operational at nine international airports—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, and Goa—in time for the peak tourist season. The new e-visa system is expected to 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. India could receive 1.2 million additional tourists and receive earnings of $2.4 billion by 2015 once the the e-visa facility is implemented, the officials informed.

In the first phase about 25 countries, including the 13 countries which are currently having the visa-on-arrival facility in India, will be be covered under the e-visa regime. US, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore are among the countries which will be given e-visa facility in the first phase. Barring a few countries like Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia, all 180 countries will be covered under e-visa regime in phases.

China is definitely on the list of countries to be provided e-visa facility, but not in the first list. The Asian giant is a big-thrust market for India and the tourism ministry has taken various steps to woo maximum Chinese tourists. The prime minister’s office (PMO) has given nod for electronic visa for tourists from about 40 countries by December as part of the visa reforms. These countries include the USA, the UK, Russia, Canada, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, France and others. 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. The e-visa is a part of the first phase of visa reforms. Ease of acquiring visas is a crucial factor in increasing inbound tourism. Electronic visas will ensure a 20% jump in visitor numbers from 2015 onwards. India is also  in the process of opening its doors for the Afghan nationals and will allow them to stay for up to two years on humanitarian grounds. Checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that the facilities are not misused.

Once the e-visa being mulled for a large number of countries is rolled out, then the visa-on-arrival will become redundant. Work is going on e-visa facility which will help tourists to get their travel document by applying online. The government is hoping to have the entire procedure in place by June 2015.

According to government officials, it is always better if the traveller has both, visa-on-arrival and e-visa, facilities which will aid airports to increase footfall in the country. The ministry of home affairs is working out the possibility of e-visa, considering the security point of view. Also, the help of Interpol can also be taken while scrutinising the applications of the tourists for visa in the country.

India attracted 6.8 million tourists in 2013, which included Indians staying abroad. Some estimates suggest that out of the 6.8 million foreign tourist arrivals, 4 million could be the people of Indian origin staying abroad. About 22 million Indians are settled abroad and 15-20% of them visit their motherland every year. If the scheme is implemented with efficiency, the e-visas have the potential to double the inbound tourist numbers in two years.

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