Almost two years after international travel was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre has decided to reinstate all categories of tourist visas for foreign nationals.
According to an order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday, it has considered the need for further relaxation of visa and travel restrictions in light of India’s improved COVID-19 situation.
According to the ministry, valid e-tourist visas issued for five years will be restored to nationals of 156 countries with immediate effect. New five-year e-tourist visas will also be issued to citizens of these 156 countries.
The regular paper tourist visa, which has a five-year validity period and is issued to nationals of all countries, has also been reinstated. Similarly, long-term 10-year regular tourist visas for citizens of the United States and Japan have been restored, and new ones will be issued immediately, according to the ministry. When regular international flights were halted in March 2020, all of these visas were suspended.
Previously, in October 2020, a graduated relaxation of visa and travel restrictions was implemented for foreign and Indian nationals who wanted to visit India for business, conferences, employment, studies, and research purposes, with the exception of tourist visas.
Tourist visas were opened for the first time in 18 months on November 15, last year, but only for chartered flights. Several states, including Goa, as well as tourism stakeholders, had written to the MHA, requesting that tourists be allowed to return to India via regular international flights, as the tourism industry was suffering.
Because the number of COVID-19 cases in the country is less than 3,000 per day, the decision to allow all tourists were made after discussions with the ministries of civil aviation, tourism, health, external affairs, and state governments.
The latest order will also not apply to Afghan nationals, who will continue to be governed separately through the e-Emergency X-Misc visa, according to the ministry. This new category of visa for Afghan citizens was introduced in August of last year, as thousands of Afghans sought refuge in other countries, including India, following the Taliban’s takeover of the country on August 15.
In general, India provides about 21 different types of visas, each with its own subcategory, such as tourist visas, medical visas, business visas, conference visas, student and research visas, missionary visas, film visas, journalist visas, sports visas, intern visas, and so on.
“All categories of visas are now permitted to travel to India,” said an MHA official who asked to remain anonymous.