Visitors to India hit by new visa rules

Travellers must now wait two months before they can re-enter the country - but officials say some exception will be made.

A handout photo showing the Private Sitout of Taj Lake Palace in Lake Pichola, Rajasthan, India (Courtesy: Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces)

ABU DHABI // New visa regulations mean frequent travellers to India will be forced to wait two months before they can return to the country. Visitors who wish to travel during that time, including those who have previously held multiple-entry visas, must seek an exemption, which can be obtained from a number of sources including heads of mission.

Business travellers to India can now only obtain a business or employment visa from the mission in Abu Dhabi or the consulate in Dubai if they have resided in the UAE for at least two years. Otherwise, business travellers must get a visa from their home country. However, an Indian embassy official said that in such cases, an exception may be made when the head of mission considers the reputation of the applicant's company.

"The new restrictions are an effort to regularise visa laws, and move towards accountability, as well as an effort to safeguard national interests and security," said an Indian embassy official in Abu Dhabi. C Gangadharan, the assistant director of India Tourism's regional office in Dubai, insisted that the changes, which have been implemented in phases over the past month, would not affect tourist or business travel.

"There is no decline from this part of the world in terms of travel to India," he said. "As of now, we have heard of no complaints. "Those who want to travel frequently, within the two-month period, will have to approach the consulate in Dubai or the embassy in Abu Dhabi, where they are willing to consider a special application, if they clearly state their purpose of visit." Non-Indian passport holders, especially those travelling as tourists, who already have long-term, multiple-entry visas to the country will need to make a special request and submit their travel details if they choose to travel back to India within a two-month time-frame.

"People will have to plan their holidays more carefully now," said the embassy official. "They need to plan slightly in advance before they travel." Visitors wishing to travel in the region and return to India can receive an "endorsement" - in the form of a stamp on the visa from one of three sources: the embassy in their country of origin, before they begin their journey; in India, at any police station or the immigration office at departure; or from any Indian mission during their travels.

There is a fee for re-entry, according to the embassy official, and the time-frame for receiving an endorsement is the same as that for a new visa. Matthew Cooper, a Dubai-based private equity executive who frequently travels to India for business, said he will have to forego his trip to Mumbai this month because of the new regulations. "Generally speaking, India is getting more difficult to visit. Compared to other countries, it now takes the most possible time to process a visa and it has increasingly become very inconvenient."

For Dr Kiran Shah and his wife, who are travelling through India and plan to spend a week in the UAE before returning there, it was a last-minute scramble to update their US passports and five-year multiple-entry Indian visas. With the rule change, the five-year visas required the special endorsement. In the end, they had to arrange for new visas at a cost of US$235 (Dh863) each. "I did visit the Indian tourism office in the US and they mentioned that they are supposed to be informing everybody, but my wife and I did not receive anything," he said.

Last year, the embassy in Abu Dhabi issued 14,358 tourist visas and 1,143 business visas.