On Saturday, December 19, Hollywood star Orlando Bloom was in for an unpleasant surprise when he arrived at the Delhi airport from London. His e-visa application hadn’t been cleared, immigration authorities told him, and he was promptly put on a plane back to London. At least from the photographs of a beaming Bloom with Amar Singh at the Taj Mahal, we know that this story didn’t end too badly — the Ministry of External Affairs intervened, his visa was cleared and he flew back to India on Sunday.
According to MEA officials, Bloom had either landed in India without a confirmation e-mail on his e-visa application being cleared or had forgotten to check whether his visa application had been cleared at all.
But the visa scheme has had its share of troubles in the past. In fact, the government was forced to change the name of its ‘Tourist Visa on Arrival-enabled by Electronic Travel Authorisation (TVoA-ETA)’ scheme, launched on November 27, 2014, to ‘e-Tourist Visa’ scheme in April 2015. This was because the earlier name was misleading — tourists would land in India, presuming that they would get the visa on arrival, and then be told to go back.
In fact, India no longer gives visas on arrival. In 2010, the government had launched the ‘Visa on Arrival (VoA)’ scheme for citizens of five countries — Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Singapore — to attract more foreign tourists. The scheme was extended to six more countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos and Myanmar — in January 2011. In 2014, the VoA scheme was extended to South Korea. That changed in November 27, 2014, with the introduction of the TVoA-ETA. So no more visas on arrival; tourists need to apply online for visa and do so at least four days before the date of arrival.
The “e-Tourist Visa” scheme is currently available to citizens of 113 countries arriving at 16 airports in India. It requires a traveller to apply online by uploading his photograph and passport page, pay the visa fee online through credit card or debit card, receive the e-Tourist Visa online and then fly to India. It takes a minimum of 72 hours and a maximum of four days for the visa application to to be processed, at the end of which it is either accepted or rejected. Applicants need to carry a copy of the e-Tourist Visa along with them at the time of travel.
The percentage share of the top 10 countries that availed e-Tourist Visa facilities last month were: UK (23.93%), US (16.33%), Russia (8.17%), France (7.64%), Germany (5.6%), Australia (4.82%), Canada (4.71%), China (3.26%), Ukraine (2.03%) and Netherlands (1.75%).
Of the 16 designated airports for entry under the e-Tourist Visa scheme last month, New Delhi airport accounted for 45.04%, followed by Mumbai airport with 17.72% and Goa airport with 14.62 %.
According to Ministry of Tourism figures, last month, 83,501 tourists arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 2,968 in November 2014, a growth of 2713.4%. Between January and November 2015, 3,41,683 tourists arrived on e-Tourist Visa, compared to 24, 963 in the same period last year, registering a growth of 1268.8%.
Many of them may have headed for the Taj.