The right visa

The Indian government does well to streamline visas for business and employment

Without doubt, India must reform its visa regime and be more welcoming to foreigners who wish to visit, live and work in the country. In the September 2009 issue of Pragati Salil Tripathi calls for the Indian government to relax its atavistic, paranoid policy of deciding what academics and journalists can do in India. Elsewhere, we have argued that it is in India’s interests to remain a magnet for talented individuals in the region. Where foreigners strengthen India’s human capital and engagement with the rest of the world, they must be welcomed. One important foreign policy objective that is not yet on the government’s radar is to strike mutual visa-free/visa-on-arrival travel arrangements bilaterally with important countries.

So what should we make of the Indian government’s decision—announced on 20th August—to ask those without employment visas (“E” visas) to leave the country by midnight tonight? When asked by Open Magazine’s Rahul Bhatia, I said: “It has been reported that the move targets the employment of Chinese blue-collar workers who enter the country on a business visa. This is supported by the fact that only 1800 of the 25000 or so Chinese nationals have now applied for an employment visa. But the government should have handled the matter with greater sensitivity and finesse. Doing it through abrupt emails and personal letters, without proper communications and media engagement, makes the implementation of a desirable policy appear dubious, high-handed and insensitive.” (The magazine published only the money quote)

Chinese companies have run into trouble elsewhere—in Africa, for instance—for importing unskilled labour where they operate. As the India-China economic relationship boomed during this decade, the UPA government—especially its home ministry under that monumentally inept Shivraj Patil—failed to prevent Chinese companies from bringing in unskilled workers under a business (non-employment) visa. Indrani Bagchi reports that the Chinese government was alerted as far back as March this year, but to little avail. It was only when local and Chinese workers clashed in Jharkhand in May that the Indian government was compelled to act.

Now, fears that this will adversely affect foreign investment are overblown—India’s appeal as an investment destination has powerful fundamentals. Besides, India offers more daunting challenges to a prospective foreigner than a mere visa application. Serious investors won’t worry.

Related Link: The home ministry’s FAQ on business & employment visas (PDF)