In a significant move towards a liberal visa regime, the Indian government will decide on offering visa on arrival to 40 countries and extend the facility to foreign tourists above 60 years of age from nearly all countries on Monday.
The tourism ministry has proposed that India offer visa on arrival to 40 countries that send the maximum number of tourists to India including the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and Brazil among others. However, the list does not include countries from the neighbourhood, except China.
The ministry has also recommended that senior citizens — foreign tourists above 60 years — should be given visa on arrival. A decision on these issues is likely to be taken in a meeting on Monday with includes representatives from the ministries of home affairs, external affairs, tourism, Planning Commission and the national security advisor.
Currently, India offers visa on arrival to 11 countries including Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos and Myanmar. A total of 12,176 visa on arrivals have been issued till August 2013 with a growth of 29.4% as compared to last year. India issued 9,412 visa on arrivals during the same period in 2012.
Despite these encouraging numbers, India has one of the most restrictive visa regimes, comparable to Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. A "visa restriction index" released by Henley & Partners last week ranked India at 74 out of 93 countries, above Pakistan, China, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iran, underlining the high number of restrictions that foreign citizens face when choosing to travel to India.
Officials hope that increasing the number of countries that can apply for visa on arrival will cut down bureaucracy and delays that are frequent complaints by foreign travelers. The government expects an increase in foreign tourist arrivals from a mere 6 million will help bridge the forex crisis.
The current account deficit is the difference between inflow and outflow of foreign exchange. During 2012-13, CAD was at an all-time high of 4.8% of GDP or $88.2 billion. The government proposes to bring it down to $70 billion or 3.8% of GDP. A tourism ministry study shows that by 2020, the country could receive 20 million international tourists earning foreign exchange to the tune of $36 billion if the visa regime was liber