India Eases E-Visa Requirements

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin May 31, 2019
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India Eases E-Visa Requirements

​India recently relaxed rules governing its e-visas, which should simplify business travel. But while there are e-business visas, there aren't e-visas for employment activities—an important distinction.

Over the past five years, India has introduced a series of reforms, including the e-visa authorization program, to ease the visa process for business visitors and tourists. It further liberalized regulations earlier this year.

The e-visa program, open to citizens of 166 countries, including the United States, provides an expedited process for visitors who need to travel to India on short notice, allowing them to apply online and receive a decision often within two or three days.

E-business visa holders are now allowed to stay in India for 180 consecutive days per visit, compared to the previous 60 days. India also removed limits on both how often foreign nationals with e-visas may enter the country and the number of times per year they may apply for e-visas.

Both e-business and e-tourist visas are now valid for up to a year, with visitors permitted to come and go multiple times, subject to stay limits.

The government also added an e-conference visa to the online visa program. In addition, visitors no longer have to convert their business or tourist visas into medical visas if they fall ill or suffer a health emergency while in India.

"Ease of doing business has been a recurrent theme across all initiatives taken by the Indian government. An immigration regime friendly for business visitors, investors and other foreign nationals has always ranked high" among the government's goals, said Mahrukh Umrigar and Satyendra Shrivastava, attorneys with Khaitan Legal Associates in London.

Business vs. Employment Visas

Umrigar and Shrivastava said global employers and HR professionals need to be aware of the different activities allowed under employment and business visas.

India grants employment visas to employees of Indian companies, senior managers of foreign firms who are relocated to India on assignment, self-employed people working as artists or highly skilled consultants, foreign-language teachers and interpreters, chefs, and people traveling to the country to work with nongovernmental organizations, among others, according to immihelp.com.  

Business visas, on the other hand, are designed for travelers aiming to conduct marketing or sales activities or establish contact in India on behalf of a company outside India, or explore possible industrial or business ventures in the country. Indian business visas also cover those buying or selling industrial products or consumer durable goods, or attending board or technical meetings.

As there's currently no e-visa available for employment activities, travelers needing that authorization should obtain it through a routine consular application, Umrigar and Shrivastava said.

Visitors staying lengthy periods also must register at the Foreign Registration Office, which can be done online, said Nina E. Woodard, SHRM-SCP, president of the San Diego-based HR consulting firm Nina E. Woodard & Associates. If visitors are required to register, they must do so within 14 days of arrival.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

E-Visa System

Travelers using the e-visa system apply and pay online, and if approved they'll receive by e-mail an electronic travel authorization, or ETA, which they can print and carry to India. Upon arrival, travelers present their ETA and passport at an immigration counter, and their biometric data (fingerprints and facial scan) are recorded. Applicants must apply for an e-visa at least four days before the planned arrival date.

Global employers and HR advisors should ensure that employees obtain a copy of their ETA and always carry it with them, according to Umrigar and Shrivastava, who recommended that all details on the ETA be thoroughly checked and that workers eligible for an e-visa confirm that the e-visa status is "granted."

Indian e-visas are typically approved in three days—in rare cases up to four days—while visas obtained through Indian consulates in a traveler's home country can take at least five to 10 days.

India has made the e-visa process "much more user friendly," Woodard said. It's important that HR professionals understand the importance of ensuring that employees use the right visas to suit their activities, she said.

If workers are going to India on business, "don't let them go on a tourist visa," she stated, adding that visitors caught conducting business on a tourist visa risk being required to leave the country. 

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.

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