India set to soft launch visa-on-arrival

The government, it is learnt, has decided to clear the names of Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Finland as the countries whose nationals can fly in to India and obtain a visa at the airport. A formal notification in this regard is likely to be made very soon. The decision has ostensibly been taken with the aim of promoting tourism but its significance is much more than that. This is the first time that India is offering visa-on-arrival to any country. And it is making this offer completely unilaterally, junking a proposal that said New Delhi should offer this facility only to countries that were ready to reciprocate.
The decision to offer visa-on-arrival is currently only a pilot project. And the choice of the selected countries has been dictated by the fact that no national of any of these countries has ever been found to be involved in or even linked to any terror-related incident anywhere in the world. The nod came after detailed consultations with intelligence agencies like Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing.
But senior government officers said that this was only the first step towards ensuring a more liberal visa regime. If everything went right with the pilot project, it was only a matter of time before this offer was extended to a number of other countries as well. The decision has been taken on repeated requests of the Tourism Ministry which had been stressing on the need for visa-on-arrival for many years now. Many South-East Asian countries like Thailand have such a policy and have been able to attract a large number of tourists because of this.
India's foreign tourist arrivals have been growing at a much higher rate than the global average for the last five years now and the Ministry has been of the view that relaxation in the visa regime, by initiating steps like visa-on-arrival and waiver of visa fees for limited periods, can ensure a sharp spurt in tourist arrivals.
A couple of years ago, India had started giving longterm five-year multiple-entry visas to nationals from 18 countries, another move that was being strongly recommended by the Tourism Ministry. That decision was often seen as the precursor to offering visa-on-arrival.
The Home Ministry, however, was in no hurry to take the next big step. Allowing unverified foreigners to enter the country, even though only till the airports, was considered to be a genuine security risk, especially in view of the general security environment prevailing in the country and the region.
But the arguments in favour of extending this facility were also compelling. So the intelligence agencies studied the feasibility of taking this step and tried to zero-in on the countries which can be safely offered this facility. In the meanwhile, the construction of new airports at Delhi and Mumbai, having better mechanisms to screen people, was often talked about as the informal deadline for this proposal to be cleared.
The fact that it has come much earlier than that -- and very importantly, within a year of the worst terrorist strikes that India has ever faced -- is also an indication of how the country has shed its insecurities. Especially, in view of the fact that many other countries who have been victims of terrorism, like the United States for example, have tightened their visa norms in recent times.

No comments: