India set to ease visa restrictions – report

Agence France-Presse
Under reforms expected this week, tourists from 180 countries will no longer have to queue up at local Indian consulates to obtain visas

INCREDIBLE INDIA. A view of the illuminated gateway of India, a major tourist attraction in Mumbai.This was an initiative taken by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) to attract tourists. Photo from EPA/Divyakant Solanki

NEW DELHI, India – Tourists travelling to India from up to 180 countries will no longer have to queue up at their local consulates to obtain visas under reforms expected to be approved this week, local media reported Sunday, February 2.

Most foreigners currently have to wait several weeks before learning whether they will be allowed to enter the country after submitting their applications at visa processing centres, a major deterrent for potential visitors.

But India’s intelligence agencies have now given their backing to proposals that would allow tourists to apply online and then wait only three days before receiving the green light, the Indian Express reported.

They would then be able to pick up their visas on arrival at any airport.

India currently issues visas on arrival to visitors from about a dozen foreign nations, including Japan and Indonesia.

But visitors from countries which account for the bulk of its tourists – such as the United States, Britain and France – have to go through the time-consuming process of applying in person.

The reforms were first mooted last October but only for around 40 countries.

The citizens of a handful of countries, including Pakistan, will not be included in the changes, the daily said.

Despite its cultural attractions, beaches and mountains, India attracts relatively few foreign holidaymakers – 6.58 million in 2012, which was about a quarter of the tourists in Thailand or Malaysia.

A final decision on the visa reforms is likely to be taken on Wednesday, February 5, at a meeting to be attended by the country’s top intelligence officers.

No one from the interior ministry was immediately available for comment. –