India Further Expands Visa-on-Arrival Program

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Oct. 8 – India’s Planning Commission has approved several measures this week to expand the country’s Visa-on-Arrival (VoA) program, which allows foreign tourists to apply for single-entry 30-day visas upon arrival in India. Currently there are less than a dozen countries who have been approved for the VoA program – the current proposal would greatly increase this number.

“There was a consensus about initiating the process to make India a tourist-friendly country and extending the on-arrival visa facility to around 40 more countries,” said the Minister of Planning, Rajeev Shukla.

Among the approved countries, the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and China will be eligible for VoA status.

The program will also increase the number of VoA application centers, which are located in the country’s major international airports. Under the current VoA program, tourists from approved countries may apply for a visa in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. The new program will include VoA application centers in Goa, Gaya, Amritsar and Chandigarh.

“There was broad consensus on simplifying online visa system [and] relaxing [the] visa regime for all types of conferences and foreign pensioners,” Minister Shukla further commented.

The proposals would allow foreigners of any nationality over the age of 60 to utilize India’s VoA centers, as well as foreigners visiting India for trade conferences.

The Planning Commission hopes the expanded VoA program will boost tourism to India as the country seeks to counteract the affects of its current account deficit, which grew to 4.8 percent of its GDP in 2012-13.

“All officials, including the National Security Advisor were of the view that India should do this as it would help in garnering more foreign exchange when government is battling the problem of burgeoning current account deficit as it would help in earning foreign exchange,” said Minister Shulka.

Several high-level officials attended this week’s Planning Commission meeting, including the country’s Foreign Secretary and Tourism Secretary, as well as representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Intelligence Bureau. The committee’s measures will now be presented to the Indian government for formal approval.

“We want to develop a world class visa regime. I am going to write to the Home Minister with the outcomes of the meeting aimed at liberalizing the visa regime,” commented Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh AhluWalia.

Tourism in India has grown over the past several years, up 4.3 percent in 2012 with more than 6.5 million foreign tourists visiting the country. Foreign exchange earnings also grew last year by 7.1 percent to a total of US$17.7 billion.

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