Strong case for visa reforms

Strong case for visa reforms

The government’s move for a comprehensive relaxation of visa norms is welcome and is in line with the changes taking place in a globalising world and the requirements of the country’s economy and business sectors. The commerce ministry’s proposal has been vetted by the home and external affairs ministries and taken up by the Prime Minister’s Office. When implemented, it will make travel to India easier than now for international visitors. The government had liberalised e-tourist visa procedures in 2014, but India still has a more restrictive visa regime than many other countries. The plan is to further relax the rules and ease procedures relating to short term business trips, medical travel etc and to facilitate easier travel for people from the least developed countries. It will be easy for people who want to attend seminars and conferences to travel to India. Rules on conference visas have already been relaxed for Chinese citizens. Tourism will get a boost with a more liberal visa regime.

A liberal visa system is necessary to make projects like Make in India and Digital India successful.  Easier visa rules will aid efforts to boost services exports from the country. While services form over 56% of the country’s economy, they do not figure high in our trade with other countries. India’s share in global services trade is small, though it has a strong services sector, including IT. With a liberalised visa regime, the government is also planning to push for a separate trade facilitation agreement for services under the WTO. At present, merchandise trade and services are covered by the same agreement. Laying down of new standards for trade in services will help to soften the visa regimes of developed countries and may lead to relaxation of many existing restrictions, as seen in the case of the US H1B visas. India has had to take the issue of the steep hike in the H1B visa fee to the WTO.

A more accommodating visa regime will aid freer and larger movement of people to and from the country. This will have social and economic benefits. There is a view that India can attract foreign exchange worth $ 80 billion annually in new business, enterprises and tourism if there is a more liberal visa regime. The idea is to open up the visa
system unilaterally, without waiting for reciprocal action. Issues relating to national security will have to be considered and so the rules will be different for
countries which need to be watched from that point of view. But there is a clear and strong case for reforms.

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