The much publicised electronic visa (e-Visa) scheme of the government has run into trouble with someone floating fake Indian e-visa portals to target foreigners. After several complaints from the Indian embassies and foreign tourists, the Union Home Ministry last week came out with an advisory urging for “joint efforts” to “curb the nuisance”.
Besides being duped, the foreign nationals have complained that their personal information, credit card and bank account details were getting compromised and these were being used by scamsters on other online portals.
Investigators also found out that some of the fake portals are operating from outside India and cannot be brought under the ambit of Indian laws.
At present, India offers electronic visa on arrival for visitors from 150 countries and as a result of the new liberalised visa, more than 50 per cent growth was registered this year as compared to last year.
The tourist visa on arrival (TvoA), enabled by the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), popularly known as e-Visa scheme, was launched in 2014.
In its communication, accessed by The Indian Express, the Home Ministry also asked the Ministry of Tourism to immediately “senstise all the registered tour operators and issue an advisory”.
A senior government official said: “The issue of tourists getting conned by fake portals requires immediate attention. The large number of complaints by foreign nationals will show the country in a poor light in the international arena.”
The home ministry communication stated, “In a number of cases, the applicants were not able to distinguish between the authentic e-Visa portal and the fake ones and ended up becoming a victim of financial fraud and/or compromised their personal data in cases where they were alerted before making any payments.”
The ministry, while advising caution to those trying for e-Visas, added: “… such fake e-visa portals (are) claiming to provide Express e-Visa services by charging a hefty amount for the same.”
In 2017, the UK had the highest share among tourists using the e-visa facility at 12.9 per cent, followed by the US (12 per cent), the UAE (7.2 per cent), France (6.4 per cent), Oman (6.1 per cent) and China (5.4 per cent), according to the Ministry of Tourism.
According to a Parliament reply by Tourism minister Mahesh Sharma, the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India for various purposes, including official business during 2014, 2015 and 2016 were 7.68 million, 8.03 million and 8.90 million (Provisional), respectively.
Among this, the number of FTAs on e-Visa during 2014, 2015 and 2016 were 0.39 lakh, 4.45 lakh and 10.80 lakh, respectively thus registering a sharp rise.
The grant of visa was to liberalise, simplify and rationalise by the Narendra Modi government in 2016 further with a view to promote ease of business, encourage economic growth and increase foreign exchange earnings.
E-visa now has tourist, business, medical and employment categories. New categories like intern visa and film visa have also been added.
Under the liberalised scheme, the window for application under the e-Visa scheme was increased from 30 days to 120 days to allow tourists to plan their trips better. The stay duration was also increased from 30 days to 60 days with double entry on E-Tourist and E-Business visas and triple entry on the E-Medical visa.