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Govt speeds up business visa approval

Visa applications from foreign businessmen, trade delegations will be approved or rejected within a week’s time

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, aiming to boost trade ties with countries such as China and Iran, has decided that visa applications from foreign businessmen and trade delegations will be approved or rejected within a week’s time.

The commerce ministry has been complaining that delays by the home ministry—sometimes extensive—in clearing business visa applications were holding back attempts to improve ties with important trading partners.

The home ministry has already taken Iran off a list of countries that draw special scrutiny from security agencies for providing visas after the Gulf nation reached a deal with Western countries in July, agreeing to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for removal of economic sanctions.

“Both the home ministry and the Prime Minister’s office are on the same page that no visa application will be delayed for more than one week primarily for business delegations coming to India even from countries like Iran and China,” a senior government official said, requesting anonymity. “Once an application comes to the home ministry for a security check, it will be processed within one week and sent back to Indian missions.”

Any decision to reject a visa application too will have to be taken within a week’s time, with the reasons for rejection given in detail. “The rejection of visa application will be an exception and purely on security grounds if the reasons are very compelling. The home ministry will be a facilitator in all initiatives the government takes on encouraging trade and economic growth,” the official added.

On his trips to capitals across the world, Modi has tried to persuade businessmen to invest in India as part of his Make in India programme that seeks to turn Asia’s third largest economy into a manufacturing base for the world, similar to what China has done. The success of the programme depends to a large extent on the inflow of foreign capital and expertise. Modi, who has visited 27 nations since taking over as Prime Minister in May 2014, hopes that faster clearances for projects and visas will help make India a more attractive business and investment destination.

“The stringent visa rule is one of the biggest impediments for boosting our exports, though often it lacks the required emphasis in public policy that it deserves. The decision of the home ministry is a major initiative towards ease of doing trade with India. With this decision, now Indian missions abroad can issue visas more liberally which should increase opportunities for Indian businesses,” a commerce ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

The commerce ministry official said the move will also help India boost exports to Iran, which was once India’s second biggest oil supplier. Teheran’s position slipped to seventh in the year ended 31 March because of economic sanctions imposed on it by western nations.

“Iran has emerged as the next growth frontier opening up many opportunities for Indian businesses. Businessmen from Iran have often complained about delays in clearance of visas to travel to India,” the commerce ministry official added.

India is also examining the possibility of entering a preferential tariff agreement with Iran, this official said.

The Union home ministry provides security clearance for foreign investments as well as visa applications. With a view to facilitating foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, the home ministry last year decided that all FDI proposals will be cleared by security agencies within three months.

As in the case of visa applications, the reasons for rejecting FDI proposals will also have to be explained in detail. In case the visa and FDI applications are not processed within the mandatory deadline, the officer concerned is required to give a written explanation.

“While national and internal security is extremely important, one also has to ensure that economic development and progress do not get hampered, and the home ministry with such initiatives can help streamline the process. The home ministry in any case puts the safeguards while granting permission on a case-by-case basis,” said Anil Choudhary, a former secretary in charge of internal security in the home ministry.

The Modi government has so far eased tourist visa norms for at least 43 countries including China. The list is expected to be expanded further in the coming days as the government is keen to reduce its list of so-called negative countries, which includes Pakistan, where stringent background checks are carried out for each individual applying for a visa.

HT Mint, New Delhi, 7th Sept. 2015