New Delhis new visa rules worry London, Washington

NEW DELHI: India has recently tightened its rules for long-term tourist visas. The move will affect thousands of foreigners living in the country or planning lengthy stays.

Tourists on five or 10-year visas will have to leave the country every six months, and will have to wait for two months before they can reenter India. Earlier, tourists on similar visas could leave India for short trips to Nepal or other close-by countries, before returning to India.

The new rules are fallout of the David Coleman Headley case. Headley, a US national, made frequent trips to India between 2006 and 2009, travelling to different cities to allegedly plan terror attacks. Headley was arrested in Chicago in October by the FBI for helping to plan and execute the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai last year.

In Delhi today, Home Minister P Chidambaram stressed, “The gaps in the visa system have been exposed in number of cases, the most notable among them being the case of David Coleman Headley. The compelling need to create a fool-proof system cannot be overstated.” Both the US and UK have expressed concern over the new guidelines because a large number of tourists and people of Indian origin live in these countries and travel frequently to India. The envoys of both countries have conveyed their reservations. The British High Commission states that while it appreciates the “Indian government’s right to protect its citizens”, it hopes “genuine tourists” won’t be adversely affected. Seven lakh British tourists visit India every year. The US Embassy, on its website, seems critical of the new policy. The website highlights “inconsistencies” in implementation of new rules “that have not been publicised” and cites examples of Americans who say they’ve gone through problems.

Earlier this year, the Home Ministry also got tough on visas for foreign workers. The move was meant to target thousands of unskilled Chinese workers who were granted business visas, but other countries like Russia were affected and lodged their protest with the government.