Emerging Trends in India – Immigration and the Use of Technology

-*Poorvi Chothani and Ashwina Pinto

As India’s economy continues to grow, attracting more foreign workers, endeavors are on to establish systems to track and control the flow of immigration. Since the middle of 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been implementing, in phases, a centralized border control and immigration compliance technology, the Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration and Tracking (IVFRT) with an object to develop and implement a secure framework that facilitates and tracks foreign nationals visiting and living in India. The IVFRT is expected to monitor that foreign visitors and workers enter the country on appropriate visas and continue to remain in the country in compliance with their visa status, as well as track foreign nationals who have overstayed in the country illegally. Thus, the visa application as well as in-country registration processes are set to become more streamlined and uniformed, meaning that compliance will be more easily monitored.

To stimulate economic growth in India, the Government of India has implemented various measures in the area of immigration in the form of liberalizing the country’s visa regime in a bid to bring in more tourism and business travellers. Two new visa categories by way of the Intern visa and Film visa has also been introduced in an effort to keep up with the ever-growing business needs and trends.

The Intern visa is available to foreign nationals intending to pursue an internship with NGOs, companies and educational institutions in India.  The period of this visa is limited to the duration of the internship or one year, whichever is less, and the visa will be granted immediately to a pursuant till the completion of graduate or post graduate studies.  Hence, it cannot be used for mid-career internships or intra-company internships. The foreign intern should draw a minimum salary of INR 0.78 Million (approximately USD 12,000) per year for an internship with an Indian company and will be subject to the Indian Income Tax regulations. However, there is no minimum salary requirement for internships with Indian educational institutions or NGOs. The Intern visa will be granted to a maximum of 50 interns per year for each Indian Mission/ Post. This limit will be 100 per year for countries where the population of people of Indian origin is more than 1 million.

The Film visa, also a new visa category, is available to foreign nationals wishing to shoot a feature film/reality TV show and/or commercial TV serials in India. The Indian government introduced this visa to ease and promote the arrival of foreign film makers and production houses. This visa will carry a maximum validity period of one year with multiple entries.

The electronic visas (e-visas) which is aimed at international travellers whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sightseeing, casual visit to meet friends or relatives, to attend a short-term yoga programme, short duration medical treatment or a casual business visit now stands sub-divided into three categories i.e., e-Tourist visa, e-Business visa and e-Medical visa. The e-visa facility is now extended to nationals of 161 countries for entry through 24 airports and three ports with more ports to be added shortly.  The application window for this scheme has been increased from 30 days to 120 days and the duration of stay on the e-Visa has been increased from 30 to 60 days, with double entry on e-Tourist and e-Business visa, and triple entry on e-Medical visa.  Business and Medical visa could be granted within 48 hours of application upon urgent requests.

The regular multiple-entry Tourist and Business visas for a period of five years will now be available to nationals of most of the countries.  94 Indian missions with biometric enrollment facilities have started issuing five-year long-term Tourist and Business visas from March 1, 2017.  The other missions will be providing this facility in due course.

With a boost in the technology sector, the Indian Embassies/Consulates in several countries such as United Kingdom and South Africa have now made biometric enrollment comprising of fingerprints and facial image scans mandatory upon submission of the visa applications. Apart from this, the Indian authorities have also introduced a biometrics requirement for foreign nationals submitting in-country applications including applications for registrations and/or visa extensions at the FRO in Pune. In the future, this requirement may also extend to other FRROs and FROs.

To conclude, India is slowly shouldering its responsibilities in consonance with its global stature. Thus, by liberalizing the visa schemes in India, the arrival of foreigners in India is expected to substantially increase which in turn will boost the tourism, medical and business sectors and result in an increase in employment in these sectors.  While the country continues to attract foreign visitors and talent, and encourages to travel with an easy short term electronic visa, the government is leveraging the use of technology to track the enforcement of the regulations.

Author Profiles:

Poorvi Chothani, Esq. is the founder and managing partner of LawQuest, an immigration and employment law firm headquartered in Mumbai, India.  She is an alumna of Penn Law School, is admitted to the NY State Bar and is a registered and practicing Solicitor, England and Wales.  She can be reached at poorvi@lawquestinternational.com.

Ashwina Pinto is an Associate at LawQuest and may be contacted at ashwina@lawquestinternational.com.