New Delhi: The government is working to significantly liberalize its visa regime, including allowing multiple-entry tourist and business visas, as part of an effort to increase its services exports. The prime minister’s office on Tuesday held a meeting with secretaries from the commerce, home and external affairs ministries to discuss the issue.
If implemented, this will amount to further liberalizing the e-tourist visa regime rolled out for 150 countries in November 2014 by the Narendra Modi government.
Other visas such as short-term business visas, medical travel visas and visas for least developed countries are also expected to be eased.
Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that visa restrictions are impacting business and trade. “These are the irritants we want to remove. However, there are also security constraints and there are countries with whom we want to be cautious,” she said.
The relaxation of visa rules is part of India’s efforts to boost its services exports. While services contribute 57% to India’s $2 trillion economy, the country’s net services exports amounted to a meagre $73 billion in 2013-14, in which software alone accounted for $69 billion.
India has a share of 3.4% of the global services trade, while China has a share of 4.6%.
Sitharaman said that at the informal meeting of trade ministers of 30 members of the World Trade Organisation on 2 June on the sidelines of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting in Paris, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo agreed with India’s proposal for having a trade facilitation agreement in services like the one inked at the Bali WTO ministerial for goods.
“We have been asked to submit a proposal which will then be taken up by all member-countries. We don’t know how negotiations will pan out on this, but we certainly don’t want to make it a subject of give and take,” Sitharaman said.
India believes that setting global standards on trade in services under the WTO will help make visa regimes in developed countries more transparent and less restrictive for its skilled professionals. India has threatened to drag the US to the WTO over its higher and discriminatory visa fee regimes for Indian software professionals.
India is also pushing for greater market access in services through the ongoing negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement. It is also trying to build an institutional framework for collecting statistics on trade in services.
In a report released on Tuesday, New Delhi-based think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, which is working with the commerce ministry on devising the mechanism, said India requires a robust framework for data collection and reporting to understand global and bilateral services trade patterns and accordingly design its negotiating strategies. “A robust database can also help design export-linked subsidies under the foreign trade policy of the department of commerce,” it added.
Another commerce ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while the earlier view was that India should liberalize its visa regime only on a reciprocal basis, now the ministry is in favour of an unilateral liberalization of India’s visa regime.
“We are missing out on around $80 billion of exports value due to our restrictive visa regime. We should push for our own national interest. It needs a mindset change,” he added.
What India is also using as an argument is what Indonesia has done recently. The country recently extended its free 30-day visa on arrival to citizens of 169 countries. The move is part of an effort to boost its economy through tourism with a target of 20 million visitors by 2019.