As many of you will know by now — I have been in the process of setting up a business in India with colleagues for the last few months and am now back in Belgium for the holidays.
While in Pondicherry in December there were rumors of a drastic change in Indian visa regulations and we went to the immigration office to find out about this. We returned with some peace of mind after speaking with the immigration officer that things weren’t quite as bad as they were made out to be. Now preparing for my return to India it turns out the situation is much, much worse and is effectively crippling our ability to run our business in India.
Where I was originally going to apply for a 1 year business visa, I was advised to apply for 6 months and will now be (hopefully) issued with a 3 month visa. To say the new visa guidelines are unclear and inconsistent is an understatement. My French colleagues have a condition on their business visa that requires them to leave the country every 30 days which doesn’t seem to be the case in Belgium, or at least is not published as one of the business visa conditions.
On leaving India your passport is stamped and you are not allowed to re-enter the country before two months without special approval from the Indian embassy in your home country. To get this special approval you will need to demonstrate that you left India for an emergency (e.g. death of a family member). There are several reports of people getting stopped on immigration for wanting to re-enter before two months of leaving the country while others have gone through without problem.
Calling the visa office helpdesk even they are unsure if this applies only when on the same multiple-entry visa, when on a new tourist visa or regardless even when you have a new different type of visa.
This is where the core of the problem lies — as a tourist or business person you pay to apply for a particular visa (non-refundable of course) and have no idea whatsoever what you will get back or what the conditions of your visa will be.
All this is being done reportedly to help against terrorism in response to the case of David Headley in particular and his involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
Nobody will argue against strict measures on who you allow into the country and by all means screen people before issuing them a visa, ask more supporting documentation to be submitted on applying for a visa or require them to register on arrival at an immigration office. Simply giving out shorter term visas with additional conditions but little to no background check is not a solution to this problem.
I seriously doubt this new visa policy will have a deterring effect to terrorist activity and hope it will be reviewed very soon. At the very least my advice would be for the government to release an official statement on the exact new guidelines and make sure they are enforced the same everywhere.
Speak up against the new India visa policy