World News

India revises visa rules following protests

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India softened its stand on Thursday on plans to tighten rules for Indian visas that were drafted following the arrest of a Chicago man alleged to have prior knowledge of the Mumbai attacks.

On complaints from foreign missions about a proposal to restrict travelers on long-term multiple-entry tourist visas from entering India within two months of their last departure from India, the government said it would make some allowances.

Bonafide tourists who planned to visit another country and re-enter India “may be permitted two or three entries, as the case may be, subject to their submission of a detailed itinerary and supporting documentation,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The original proposal would have been a blow for many tourists who use India as a hub to visit other countries in the region, as well as for some businessmen who use long-term tourist visas for frequent trips to avoid red tape and paperwork delays.

Foreign missions in India had complained of inconsistency and a lack of clarity in the new and proposed rules.

“These new visa and registration regulations are being implemented inconsistently and are not finalized,” the U.S. Mission in India said in a notice on its website, adding it had received complaints from several Americans about the new rules.

British Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson, on a recent visit to India, raised the issue with Home Minister P. Chidambaram, home ministry officials said.

“We have written to the government asking for some clarifications,” a British High Commission official said.

India’s move comes on the heels of limits on business visas earlier in the year: India said those working in the country on business visas needed employment permits, which affected hundreds of Chinese engineers working on power projects in the country.

Chidambaram said on Wednesday there were gaps in the visa system, which were exposed in the case of Pakistan-born David Coleman Headley, accused of making five scouting trips to Mumbai for militant Pakistani groups.

Headley allegedly used his associate’s business as a cover during his trips to Mumbai.

“The compelling need to create a fool-proof system cannot be overstated,” said Chidambaram.

A draft for new rules “for facilitating legitimate travelers and strengthening security” is likely to be ready early in 2010. (Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)