India tightens tourist visa rules

India has tightened its rules for long-term tourist visas, officials said today, in a move that is causing confusion for travellers and will affect thousands of foreigners in the country. Under previous rules, tourists on five or 10-year visas were required to leave the country every 180 days. But many would simply go to a neighbouring country such as Nepal for a brief stay before returning. Now they will still face the same 180-day deadline, but will have to stay out of the country for two months before they can re-enter. "We have changed the rules to prevent the misuse of the long-term tourist visa," a senior official at the foreign ministry said, asking not be named.

The new rules have been implemented since November 4, he said, although the British and the US embassies in New Delhi said the changes were being applied inconsistently and had caused problems for a number of its nationals. In a posting on its website, the US embassy detailed a number of tourists who had left the country to visit a neighbouring country for a holiday but who were then denied entry back into India. "These new visa and registration regulations are being implemented inconsistently and are not finalized," the US advisory stated. Over 100,000 tourists apply for long-term visas each year, according to the foreign ministry. The British embassy said they were aware of the new visa rule and have discussed the issue with Indian authorities as it will impact a large number of British nationals.

"There is no real clarity over the details of the proposals or how they might be implemented," said Kitty Tawakley of the British High Commission. "We understand that the Indian government is reconsidering its plans." About 700,000 British citizens visited India in 2008 on long-term and short-term visas, she said. Nationals from 14 countries are eligible for the long-term visas and they are particularly used by US and British citizens who bypass the complicated process of acquiring a business or employment visa. "We realised that most countries follow the two-month gap rule and India needs to do the same," the official said. The ministry has made no change to short-term visa rules, which most visitors to the country use for their holidays, but it has recently tightened up business visa rules.

In October, India announced a crackdown on the misuse of business visas -- short-term visas meant for a specific trip to India -- which meant thousands of expatriate workers had to leave the country. A final draft of visa regulations on tourist visas and business visas is expected to be issued in December and will be made public by Indian embassies across the world.

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