NEW DELHI: Tourists travelling to India from 180 countries will no longer have to queue at their local consulates to obtain visas after New Delhi announced a “very significant” overhaul of its border controls.
Most foreigners currently have to wait several weeks before learning whether they will be allowed to enter India after submitting their applications at visa processing centres, a major deterrent for potential visitors.
Under the new scheme, set to come into force later this year, tourists will be able to apply online and then receive the green light within five days, before getting their visa at an airport on arrival.
“It is a very, very significant step that we are taking forward,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters in the capital on Thursday.
“We want to welcome more people to come to India and to make it more convenient for tourists to come to India,” he said.
Planning Minister Rajiv Shukla announced the “historic” changes late on Wednesday, after a meeting of top foreign ministry, tourism and other government officials agreed on the overhaul.
India’s intelligence agencies also recently approved the changes, which were first mooted last October, although only for 40 countries.
Citizens from eight countries — Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan — have not been included in the changes for security reasons.
Khurshid said the list of countries excluded from visas on arrival would be reviewed “periodically”.
The government hopes to have the necessary infrastructure in place, including at the country’s airports, by October in time for the start of the peak tourist season, officials said.
“Of course it requires a lot of logistics because people coming, arriving at airports will need to be processed very quickly,” Khurshid said. “I’m sure that those arrangements are being made.”
India currently issues visas on arrival to visitors from 11 foreign nations, including Japan, Finland and Indonesia.
Despite its cultural attractions, beaches and mountains, India attracts relatively few foreign holidaymakers — 6.58 million in 2012, which was about a quarter of Thailand or Malaysia.
India tightened entry restrictions in 2009 in the wake of revelations that David Headley, a foreign militant who helped plot the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, regularly stayed in India on long-term tourist visas.
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