New Delhi, Feb. 5: The home ministry has given in-principle clearance for visa-on-arrival and a new system, electronic travel authorisation (ETA), for citizens of most countries except eight, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The new measures, which will apply to 180 countries, are meant to boost tourist flow. The steps are expected to kick in by October.
The home ministry approval came at a meeting chaired by Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and attended by others, including Union minister of state for planning Rajiv Shukla and foreign secretary Sujatha Singh.
While visa-on-arrival is now allowed only for nationals of 11 countries, this will be the first time that ETA will be introduced in India. Only a handful of nations — such as Sri Lanka, Australia and Singapore — have such a system.
Under ETA, applicants will be intimated within five days after checks with a home ministry immigration database created after the David Coleman Headley incident. Headley, travelling on a US visa, had conducted the recce for the 26/11 attacks.
If ETA is approved, an electronic or online authorisation will be sent to applicants who can take a print and head to India. They will skip having to record biometrics in their country. It will be done on arrival in India.
Under ETA, travellers will get 30-day visas. The category is yet to be decided. “(But) we have decided on the principle that ETA will not be extended to students and workers,” said a tourism ministry official.
The ministry had long sought ETAs. It will now approach the finance ministry for funds to start the service.
“Visa-on-arrival alone cannot increase our foreign tourist arrivals as visitors need psychological security (about being able to get a visa). If we implement ETA, we can increase foreign visitors’ arrivals by 25 per cent each year,” the ministry official said.
Minister Shukla said it would take five to six months for the departments to put the infrastructure in place, PTI reported.
“We have decided to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to tourists from 180 nations. We hope to implement this from the next tourist session beginning October,” Shukla added.
The 11 countries whose citizens currently enjoy the visa-on-arrival facility include those from Finland, Singapore, Japan and the Philippines.
Besides Pakistan and Afghanistan, the nations that will be kept out of the facility are Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia, minister Shukla said without giving reasons.
Initially, there was a debate on whether to include China. It has now been decided such a service will be extended if Beijing offers Indians similar facilities.