Indian visas easier – but at a price!

by Suresh Perera

Sri Lankans have been granted the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) facility by the Indian government with effect from April 14, but the move translates into visitors now having to fork out Rs. 7,909/20 per single entry, 30-day stay tourist visa – Rs. 5,504/20 more than the Rs. 2,045 fee charged earlier.

The new visa fee has been fixed at US$ 60 (Rs. 7,909/20 based on Friday’s exchange rate of Rs. 131/82 per USD) as against Rs. 2,045 (approximately US$ 15.5) charged by the Indian High Commission in Colombo for a tourist visa earlier. In addition to the US$ 60 per person, an interchange charge of US$ 2 is applicable for credit/debit cards.

The facility, widely described as "visa on arrival", followed a gesture by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Colombo in March, is a misnomer as the scheme does not mean that Sri Lankans can get their entry visa stamped on their passports like in Singapore, Maldives or Seychelles, officials pointed out.

Announcing that the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme has now been extended to Sri Lankan nationals, the Indian High Commission says that visas will not be issued on arrival without ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization). Applicants have to apply and obtain ETA online prior to undertaking travel to India under a process which will take a minimum of four working days.

The applicant should carry a printed copy of ETA along with him/her at the time of travel. He/she should have a return/onward journey ticket, with sufficient money to spend during his/her stay in India. Biometric details of the applicant will be captured at Immigration on arrival in India, the mission said in a statement.

"Modi’s announcement was good news to Sri Lankans, but it appears that there is a bigger price to pay for the facility", the officials pointed out.

Travelers will no longer have to make a journey to physically submit their applications and collect their stamped passports, they noted. "That’s the only solace".

"But, with an enhanced visa fee of Rs. 7,909/20 per applicant, this pales into insignificance", they asserted.

Sri Lankans will be permitted entry into India only through nine designated airports — Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram, the High Commission statement said.

However, exit can be through any authorized Immigration Check Post (ICP) in India. Entry into India must be undertaken within 30 days from the date of approval of ETA. The eTV facility cannot be availed of more than twice in a calendar year, it noted.

This clearly indicates that Sri Lankans can visit India only twice per annum, the officials asserted. "Even under the earlier system, such a restriction was not placed to shut out those eager to travel more frequently".

Attempts to reach Ms. Esha Srivastava, the Indian High Commission’s First Secretary (Press, Information & Culture) for clarification on the enhanced visa fee, the two visit limit per year and whether this would affect ‘medical visas’, were futile as a recording on her mobile phone indicated she is overseas.

The processing of visas is handled by IVS Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., on behalf of the Indian mission in Colombo. Under the earlier system, this intermediary agency charged an additional Rs. 142 as service charge/ICWF charge per visa applicant for processing.

With these charges included, Sri Lankans paid a total Rs. 2,187 for an Indian visa under the previous system. It was, however, not immediately known whether the processing charge has also been pushed up with the visa fee revision under the new scheme.

Notwithstanding the so-called ‘service charge’ and etc., applicants are not even provided with a table to place their personal belongings before entering the IVS Lanka office in Colombo, a traveler complained. "I was shocked when the security officer asked me to place my bag on the ground outside the entrance".

At least the eTV facility will save such humiliation even though it comes at a considerable cost to visitors, a sizeable section of whom are not-so-affluent pilgrims from rural areas, he elaborated.

Asked whether there is reciprocity between Sri Lanka and India on the considerable visa fee revision, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Satya Rodrigo said in Colombo that any country can charge their own visa fees. "It’s a matter decided by the respective countries".

There is no reciprocity involved in the absence of uniformity in visa charges, he explained. "We have two schemes in operation – visitors from SAARC countries have to pay US$ 15, while those listed as from ‘all other countries’ are charged US$ 30 each under the ETA system".

In Sri Lanka, the online visa facility is an option for tourists. They can also seek entry on arrival on the payment of an additional standard US$ 5 per person, he noted.

Rodrigo said that Sri Lanka’s visa fees are comparatively lower in terms of cost than most countries. "We have not tied this fee to the cross exchange rate as we want to maintain uniformity to encourage tourism".

"Take the US as an example. The visa fee for Sri Lankans is quite high, but we charge an American visitor only US$ 30 under the ETA system", he elaborated.

Commenting further on the new visa scheme, the Indian mission said in a statement that Sri Lankan nationals holding Diplomatic/Official passports cannot avail of the eTV facility. Sri Lankan nationals of Pakistani origin are also not eligible.

While pointing out that the new scheme will be in addition to the existing visa services, the statement clarified that the eTV can be utilized by all Sri Lankan nationals holding ordinary passports whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sightseeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business visit.

The applicant should not have a residence or occupation in India. The applicant should hold a passport with at least six months validity from the date of arrival in India, it said. "The eTV will be non-extendable, non-convertible and not valid for visiting Protected/Restricted and Cantonment Areas".

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