India may soon roll out a long- term multiple-entry comprehensive visa by merging tourist, business, medical and conference visas into one to attract more visitors and boost trade.
Tourists, businessmen or people coming for treatment or to attend conferences or even for film shoots can be covered under the proposed new category, 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 is likely to be given upto 10 years but under this category the visitor will not be allowed to work or stay permanently, a government official, who is part of the deliberations, said.
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 Home Ministry is working on the proposal and, hopefully, it will be implemented soon, 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 $80 billion annually in terms of attracting foreigners and foreign exchange.
Medical tourism in India alone is estimated at $3 billion and projected to grow to $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.
India will not ask for reciprocal visa liberalisation as it is an old concept now.
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.
For sensitive countries, the government may consider extending group visa to tourists and business persons.
Discussions are also being held on whether to incorporate the new category visa with the online e-tourist visa on arrival scheme for short term visits.
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 has been 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% of India’s GDP but its share in global export of services remains at a low 3.15%.
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% to job creation. Its contribution to total trade is 25%– around 35% to exports and 20% to imports.