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India – Modernisation and Liberalisation of the India Visa System

Bureau of Immigration (BoI) was setup in 1971 by Government of India to undertake Immigration function in the country. BoI is headed by Commissioner of Immigration and assisted by FRROs for immigration facilitation service at airports and work relating to registration of foreigners under various Acts and Rules. Altogether, there are 86 Immigration Check Posts all over India, catering to international traffic. Out of these, 37 ICPs are functioning under the BoI, while the remaining are being managed by the concerned State Governments.  At present, there are 12 FRROs in major cities i.e. Delhi, Mumbai Kolkata, Chennai, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Calicut, Kochi, Trivandrum, Lucknow and Ahmedabad. Apart from this, there are 12 Chief Immigration Officers in the cities i.e. Goa, Jaipur, Gaya, Varanasi, Nagpur, Pune, Mangalore, Trichy, Coimbatore, Bagdogra, Chandigarh and Guwahati. At remaining places District Superintendent of Police (SP) or the prescribed authority functions as FRO to facilitate foreigners.

In order to modernise and upgrade the Indian Visa and Immigration services, “Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT)” has been identified and included as a key project and undertaken by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. The core objective of this Project is to develop and implement a secure and integrated service delivery framework that facilitates legitimate travellers while strengthening security. The scope of the project includes 169 Missions, 166+ e-Visa countries, 37 ICPs (Immigration Check Posts), 12 FRROs (Foreigners Regional Registration Offices), and FROs (Foreigners Registration Offices).

The implementation of this project will enable authentication of traveller’s identity at the Missions, ICPs and FRRO/FROs through use of intelligent document scanners and biometrics, updating the foreigner’s details at entry and exit points, improved tracking of foreigner’s through sharing of information captured during visa issuance at Missions, during immigration check at ICPs, and during registration at FRRO/FROs.

The MHA has adopted many measures to facilitate the smooth entry, stay, and movement of foreign nationals within the country while ensuring the security of the country. This article highlights the various steps taken recently to liberalise the Indian visa process.

Launch of e-FRRO services

Under the IVFRT project, the Govt. of India has launched e-FRRO services in February 2018, limited to 12 FRROs. e-FRRO, a web-based application aimed to build centralized online platform for foreigners for their India visa related services without needing a visit to the FRRO office for their Indian Visa & Immigration application process. Its key objective is to provide Faceless, Cashless and Paperless services to the foreigners with user friendly experience. This initiative was warmly welcomed by the expats and foreigners residing in India and the employers hiring them.
By the end of year 2018, the govt has successfully implemented the e-FRRO services across all FRROs and FROs cities in India.

This single initiative has ensured that no interface will happen between the Foreigners and the FRRO officers and will reduce Bureaucracy and eradicate corruption as well as remove all possible sources of harassment that Foreigners may have perceived to have undergone in the past.

Registration of Minors

Children aged 12 years old and above will now need to register with the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO). Children below the age of 12 years are exempt from the registration requirement. The previous age limit for the exemption was 16 years. Necessary arrangements to register minor dependents between the age of 12 and 16 must be taken care of upon their initial arrival to India, without which outward international travel will not be permitted. Minor dependents under the age of 12 must register and obtain relevant Residential Permits only when they renew their visas.

Business Visa Registration

The guidelines clarify that business visa holders must register with the relevant Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO) if their aggregate stay in India exceeds 180 days in a calendar year. Previously, it was unclear whether business travellers were required to register only if their consecutive stay in India exceeded 180 days. Business travellers must keep track of the duration of each of their visits each calendar year and must register with the local FRRO/FRO if their aggregate stay exceeds 180 days to ensure compliance and avoid potential challenges upon exit from India.

Employer Name Change

Change of employer and visa sponsoring entity will now be permitted between registered holding companies, joint ventures and consortiums, as well as their subsidiaries, and vice versa. Only changing between a registered holding company and its subsidiaries or between subsidiaries of a registered holding company was previously allowed. Employers seeking to move their foreign employees to joint venture entities will not be required to procure a new visa overseas but can apply for this change while the employee is still in India.

Visa on arrival (VOA) for Japanese nationals

Japanese nationals will now be granted visas valid for 60 days with double entries upon arrival in India. They must enter through one of the following international airports to obtain the VOA: Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata or Hyderabad. Previously, 30-day single entry visas were granted. Japanese nationals now benefit from longer stays and can return to India a second time within the validity of their VOA.

e-Visa (Electronic Visa)

The Electronic Visa Facility now covers practically all the countries of the world. Foreign nationals of 166 countries can now enjoy this facility at 26 airports and 05 seaports. The foreigner does not have to interact with any Indian official till his arrival at the immigration counter. The Bureau of Immigration (BoI) generally decides within 24-48 hours whether or not to grant an e-visa to a foreigner. The popularity of e-visa is sky rocketing. The number of foreigners who visited India on e-visa has gone up from a half (0.5) million in 2015 to 1.7 million in 2017. The figure for 2018 is 1.9 million up to 30th October, 2018.

Two new categories of e-visa i.e. e-Conference & e-Medical Attendant visa have been introduced recently. E-visa is now available for five categories i.e. (i) Tourist, (ii) Business (iii) Medical (iv) Conference and (v) medical attendant.

The local FRRO has been empowered now to extend duration of electronic visas beyond 60 days up to 90 days. Moreover, these e-visas can now be availed three times in one year against twice in a year earlier.

Conversion of Electronic Visa (e-Visa)

The e-Visa can be converted to an Entry (X-2) Visa in India if the visa holder marries an Indian national or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder during the validity of the visa. Foreign nationals of Indian origin can also now convert their e-Visa to Entry (E1) in India. Foreign nationals of Indian origin and those who marry Indian nationals or OCI cardholders had to exit India and apply for a new entry visa overseas. Foreign nationals of Indian origin and those who marry Indian nationals or OCI cardholders will benefit from this change as they do not need to exit India and apply for a new entry visa overseas.

India Business Card

Eligible business travellers from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) who are eligible for a multiple-entry Business Visa with a validity of three years or more can obtain an India Business Card that has the same validity as the Business Visa. Nationals of SAARC countries were not issued India Business Cards along with their Indian Business Visas. Eligible foreign nationals will see faster immigration clearance at ports of entry and exit since the India Business Card allows holders to utilize expedited clearance lanes.

Changes in Permitted Activities

All individuals traveling to India are still required to limit the purpose of their visit to the specific activities that were declared on their visa application. However, according to the recent amendments, all foreign nationals except citizens of Pakistan, may now undertake activities typically only permitted under the Tourist visa, regardless of whether they hold a business visa or work visa. This means that individuals who currently hold a valid work or business visa may also travel to India to undertake tourism activities without the need to secure a separate tourist visa.

Changes to Visa Cancellation Policy

Foreign nationals holding long-term, consular issued Indian visas may now obtain a short-term visa (conference visa, transit visa, e-visa) without cancelling their pre-existing visa. The long-term visa will be placed on hold for the duration of the short-term visa.

Visa Conversions for Persons of Indian Origin

Previously, e-visas could not be converted to another visa type within India. Now, Persons of Indian Origin who hold any short or long-term Indian visa and are also entitled to an Entry Visa, may convert to an Entry Visa from within India.

Overstay and Visa violations Financial Penalty

The Govt. has amended financial penalties for the Overstay and Visa Violation cases in December 2018 (officially announced on e-FRRO portal dated 7th Jan 2019), wherein the penalties been increased exponentially nearly 10 times compared to the previous charge. The revised penalty charges are as follows:

  • Overstay up to 90 Days and/or non-registration – USD 300
  • Overstay from 91 days up to 2 years – USD 400
  • Overstay more than 2 years – USD 500
  • Any other minor offences under the Foreigners Act 1946, the Passport (Entry to India) Act 1920, the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and other Indian laws – USD 400
  • Visa violations including indulging in activities which are not permitted under the visa granted. – USD 500
  • Cases involving both overstay and visa violations – USD 500

Revision in the Visa Extension and stay term for foreigners in India

The Govt. has revised the existing visa extension and stay terms for foreigners bearing certain category of visas, which will empower them to continue their India stay without any interruption or exiting the country:

  • Facilities such as extension of Employment and Business visas for a period up to ten years within India as against five years at present.
  • Extension of visa of foreigners who are staying in India up to 15 years continuously and for 5 years at a time.
  • Permitting a foreign national who is already in India on Long Term Visa to attend international conferences/seminars/workshops without any specific permission from the FRRO concerned have also been extended.