In a move to promote the tourism industry, the government will soon permit multiple-entry long-term visas, valid for five to 10 years, to all tourists and other visitors from select countries.
The proposal, which was being keenly pursued by the tourism ministry for quite some time, has been cleared in principle by the ministries of external affairs and home. However, it will take some time for an official notification.
Announcing this on Wednesday, minister for tourism and culture Ambika Soni stated that the provision would contribute immensely towards increasing the number of foreign arrivals in India leading to the growth of the tourism sector.
She had taken up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently at a meeting where he reviewed the performance of the tourism ministry and discussed measures for accelerating the growth of the tourism industry that ranks among the largest employment generating sectors.
She had also raised the issue with home minister Shivraj Patil, telling him that regular visitors to the country were discouraged as they faced many problems in obtaining fresh visas every time they wanted to come here.
Long-term multiple-entry visas to India are currently available only for certain categories of visitors — such as businessmen, students or researchers — and that, too, from select nations. These are valid for a maximum period of six months at a time. This condition will apply to the new scheme as well.
According to tourism secretary AK Mishra, under the new arrangement, the long-term visas will be available for all tourists and other visitors who are nationals of countries that have a reciprocal arrangement with India. Among these are the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and certain south east Asian nations.
The clearance for such visas had been held up for long due to security considerations raised by the home ministry, a senior official said.
However, home secretary VK Duggal recently wrote to Mishra informing him that the proposal had been finally given the go-ahead and the external affairs ministry could now proceed with the scheme.