|Illustration: India is looking at issuing visas on arrival from more than 40 countries, raising hopes it will boost the tourism industry|
A meeting of senior officials from the home, foreign and tourismministries, as well as intelligence officers, concluded on Mondayevening with a consensus in favour of the sweeping visa reform.
“There was a consensus about initiating the process to make India atourist-friendly country and extending the on-arrival visa facility toaround 40 more countries,” Planning Minister Rajeev Shukla told thePress Trust of India news agency.
The new countries would include the United States and Britain — thesource of about 25 percent of all tourists last year — as well asCanada, Brazil, Australia and most western European nations includingFrance and Germany.
Despite its cultural attractions, beaches and mountains, Indiaattracts relatively few foreign holidaymakers — 6.58 million in 2012,which was about a quarter of Thailand or Malaysia, for example.
In 2009, it tightened restrictions in the wake of revelations thatDavid Headley, a militant of American and Pakistani descent who helpedplot the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, had regularly stayed in the country onlong-term tourist visas.
India currently issues visas on arrival to visitors from about adozen foreign nations including Japan, Finland, Singapore, Indonesia,New Zealand and the Philippines among others.
All others must apply several weeks in advance and visit a visa-processing centre in person.
The proposed relaxation of the rules, which is likely to take time toorganise and would require cabinet-level approval, was hailed by TheTimes of India newspaper in an editorial.
“While relaxing our restrictive visa regime is a good first step,much more needs to be done to attract visitors to India,” it said.
The proposed changes would also make it easier for elderly visitorsand those wishing to attend conferences, the Press Trust of Indiareported.
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