NEW DELHI: When finance minister Arun Jaitley announced e-visas or Visa on Arrival (VoA) at nine airports of the country, he tried to strike a balance between the concerns of the ministries of tourism and home.
The two ministries have been embroiled in a protracted tussle over the issue, with the tourism ministry insisting that a liberalised visa regime will bring in more tourists and much-needed foreign exchange. The Intelligence Bureau, which reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), had red-flagged the issue of e-visas or Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) on grounds of national security.
Jaitley tried to take the concerns of both into account as he announced that the e-visa facility will be introduced at nine airports and extended to more countries “in a phased manner”. The tourism ministry is happy with the assurance and the MHA is satisfied that it has time to handle the several associated security issues.
Tourism secretary Parvez Dewan met Jaitley in the run-up to the budget and made a strong case for extending the VoA facility to countries beyond the 11 that were granted this privilege in 2009. Dewan carried figures of tourist arrivals in India and comparative data of other countries, including China, France, US, Spain and Italy.
While India received 7 million tourists last year, drawing in $18 billion, the US got 67 million tourist arrivals and earned $200 billion. He tried to impress upon the finance minister the importance of boosting tourism to earn foreign exchange.
The IB, on the other hand, argued that the VoA facility available to nationals of 11 countries had not resulted in an increase in tourists from those countries.
In fact, in the past three years, only two-and-a-half per cent of the tourists from those countries availed of the facility. Most tourists still preferred to get their visas beforehand.
The countries that have been extended the VoA facility by India are New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Finland, Luxembourg, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Nationals of these countries can apply for a visa online and after their details are scrutinised by the immigration department (operating under IB) they are issued an ETA, on the basis of which they can travel to India. Their passports are stamped with the visa on landing in India.
The facility to issue VoA was restricted to passengers landing at nine airports. It started off with Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai airports. It was extended to Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram last year and Goa was added recently.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tries to strike a balance with "Visa on Arrival ...