In a move aimed at giving the tourism sector a hard push, the government has introduced long-term tourist visa for nationals from a select list of 18 countries, most of them from Europe.
A Union home ministry spokesman said the multi-entry visa would be valid for five years with the stipulation that continuous stay on each visit does not exceed 90 days. The 18 countries are France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Vietnam.
Long-term visas are expected to facilitate repeat visits by nationals of these countries; tourists intending to visit India could also seek the visa well before they finalise their travel plans.
India usually issues tourist visa valid for 6 months to 10 years; the latter only in case of bilateral arrangement as with the United States. Tourist visa up to 5 years was so far granted only if the foreigner is connected with the tourism trade.
The home ministry had earlier rejected a proposal from tourism minister Ambika Soni to introduce visa on arrival scheme for select countries to boost tourism. The ministry had cited the prevalent security situation in the country for turning down this proposal; officials said the security establishment in India did not yet have the infrastructure needed to screen tourists on a real-time basis.
The total number of tourists had increased marginally from 39.2 lakh last year to 40 lakh in 2006, earning the country foreign exchange worth nearly Rs 22,743 crore.