India announces new visa rules to boost tourism numbers

British tourist John Packer, a 41-year-old tiler, drinks a beer at a seafront restaurant in the resort town of Kovalam, in southern Kerala state on Sept 9, 2014. Tourists travelling to India from 43 countries including the US will no longer have
British tourist John Packer, a 41-year-old tiler, drinks a beer at a seafront restaurant in the resort town of Kovalam, in southern Kerala state on Sept 9, 2014. Tourists travelling to India from 43 countries including the US will no longer have to queue at their local consulates to obtain visas after New Delhi announced Thursday a long-awaited easing of border controls. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Tourists travelling to India from 43 countries, including Singapore, will no longer have to queue at their local consulates to obtain visas after New Delhi announced Thursday a long-awaited easing of border controls.

Tourists from countries including Australia, Brazil, Germany and Japan will now be able to apply online and then receive the green light within four days, before getting their visa at an airport on arrival.

Most foreigners currently have to wait several weeks before learning whether they will be allowed to enter India after submitting their applications at visa processing centres, a major deterrent for potential visitors.

"This scheme... is a dream come true for the entire tourism industry of India and is bound to positively impact the economy," tourism minister Mahesh Sharma said in a statement.

"The government's objective is to boost tourism and this scheme's implementation will send out a clear message that India is serious about making travel to the country easy."

Plans for the overhaul were announced by the previous left-leaning Congress government which was thrown from office at elections in May.

The minister said the scheme would eventually be expanded from the list of 43 countries that also includes Russia, the United States and South Korea. Britain, India's former colonial master, is not included on the new list.

Under the old scheme, citizens of 12 countries were eligible for a visa on arrival.

Despite its cultural attractions, beaches and mountains, India attracts relatively few holidaymakers - 6.58 million in 2012, a fraction of those who go to popular Asian destinations like Malaysia and Thailand.

India came 65 out of 140 countries in a World Economic Forum ranking on travel and tourism competitiveness conducted in 2013.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government has pledged to boost tourism numbers since his party stormed to office on a pledge to create jobs and revive the economy.

Under the scheme, tourists will be able to pick up their visas from nine Indian airports. Tourists can apply twice a year for 30-day visas which cannot be extended. Tourists must also have a return ticket.

"The facility is available to foreigners whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sightseeing, short duration medical treatment, casual business visit... and not valid for any other purpose, activities," a tourism ministry statement said.