The Indian government has introduced some important changes to the types of Indian visas it offers, effective April 1, 2017. This guide to Indian visa types will help you find out what Indian visas are available, and for whom. Further detailed information about each visa category is available from this document on the Ministry of Home Affairs website.
Tourist visas are issued to people who want to come to India to visit people and go sightseeing or attend a short-term yoga program. Although tourist visas can be granted for more than six months, depending on the applicant's nationality, it's not possible to remain in India for longer than six months at a time on a tourist visa. In late 2009, India introduced new rules to curb the misuse of tourist visas in India (people who were living in India on Tourist visas, and doing quick runs to a neighboring country and back every six months). Specifically, a two-month gap was required between visits to India. This requirement was finally removed in late November 2012. However, some exceptions do still remain. Also note, that if you apply for another tourist visa within a month of expiration of your old one, processing may take up to 45 days as approval needs to be obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
India now has a popular electronic visa (e-Visa) scheme in place for citizens of most countries. Under this scheme, visitors can easily apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization online, and then get a visa stamp for entry into the country upon arrival, now valid for one year and multiple entries. The scope of visas under the program has been widened to include short-term medical treatment and yoga courses, and casual business visits and conferences. Previously, these required separate medical/student/business visas. Tourists visiting India on a cruise ship can also get an e-Visa.
Entry (X) Visa
An X-visa used to be issued to people who didn't clearly fall into any of the other categories of visa applicants (such as volunteers). However, as of mid-2010, an X-visa is only available to the following people:
- A foreigner of Indian origin.
- Spouse and children of a foreigner of Indian origin or Indian citizen.
- Spouse and dependent children of a foreigner coming to India on any other long term visa, such as an Employment visa or Business visa.
- Foreigners who are joining specified ashrams or spiritual communities, such as Auroville, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Missions of Charities in Kolkata, or certain Buddhist monasteries.
- Foreigners who are participating in professional international sporting events.
It's not possible to work in India on an X-visa. However, X-visas can be extended in India, and there's no need to leave every six months. If you do stay for longer than six months at a time, you'll need to register at with Foreigners Regional Registration Office.
Employment visas are issued to foreigners who are working in India, for an organization registered in India. Foreigners doing long-term volunteer work in India are now granted employment visas (as opposed to X-visas previously). Special Project visas are issued to highly skilled foreigners coming to India to work in the power and steel sectors. Employment visas are usually for one year, or the term of the contract. They can be extended in India.
In order to apply for an Employment visa, you'll need proof of employment with a company/organization in India, such as a contract that states the terms and conditions. From April 1, 2017, the rule that stipulates applicants must be earning 16.25 lakh rupees (about $23,000) a year or more has been lowered to allow for foreigners to teach in Central Higher Educational Institutes. Other exceptions are made for volunteers, ethnic cooks, translators, non-English language teachers, and members of Foreign High Commissions and Embassies.
Intern (I) Visa: New Category
Before April 1, 2017, it was necessary for foreigners pursuing an internship in an Indian organization to obtain an Employment visa. However, foreigners who meet certain conditions can now get an Intern visa. The gap between the completion of graduation or post graduation and the commencement of the internship should not exceed one year. The validity of the Intern visa is restricted to the duration of the internship program or one year, which ever is less. It can't be converted into an Employment visa (or any other type of visa).
Business visas are available for people to explore business opportunities or conduct business in India. This type of visa differs from an Employment visa in that the applicant won't be working for, and earning an income from, an organization in India. Business visa applicants will require a letter from the organization that they intend to do business with, stating the nature of the business, duration of stay, places to be visited, and intention to meet expenses.
Business visas are valid for up to five or 10 years, with multiple entries. However, holders usually aren't allowed to remain in India for more than 180 days at a time, unless they register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).
Student visas are granted to people who wish to come to India and study long-term at an officially recognized educational institution. This includes the study of yoga, Vedic culture, and Indian system of dance and music. The main document required is student admission/registration papers from the institution. Student visas are issued for up to five years, depending on the duration of the course. They can also be extended in India.
In regards to yoga, the term "Yoga visa" is often mentioned. However, it's actually a Student visa that's provided for the purpose of studying yoga. Most of the well known yoga centers in India will require those who study with them to obtain a yoga Student visa. A tourist visa is not sufficient for long-term study.
Conference visas are issued to delegates who want to attend a conference in India that's offered by an Indian government organization. Those who are attending a conference with a private organization in India should apply for a Business visa.
If you're a professional journalist or photographer, you should apply for a Journalist visa. The main benefit of a Journalist visa is if you want access to a particular region or person. A Journalist visa is issued for three months. However, these visas can be notoriously difficult to get, so only apply if you really need to.
If you're employed by a media company, or if you list your occupation as journalist or photographer on your visa application, it's likely you'll be made to get a Journalist visa regardless of what you intend to do in India. India is very sensitive to people involved in the media (including editors and writers) coming to India, due to how they may portray the country.
Film (F) Visa: New Category
If you're planning on making a commercial film or TV show in India, from April 1, 2017, you'll need to apply for a Film visa. The visa application is reviewed and processed by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting within 60 days. It's valid of up to one year.
Anyone shooting a documentary film or advertisement must apply for a Journalist visa.
Research visas are issued to professors and scholars who wish to visit India for research related purposes. This is another difficult category of visa to get. It's restrictive and comes with a lot of requirements. Applications are sent to the Department of Education. Ministry of Human Resource Development for approval, which may take three months to be granted. Many people choose to apply for a Tourist visa instead, if they're conducting research informally and not going to be in India for more than six months.
Medical visas are provided to those seeing long-term medical treatment in India at recognized and specialized hospitals, and treatment centers. The treatment should be significant in nature, such as neurosurgery, heart surgery, organ transplant, joint replacement, gene therapy, and plastic surgery. Up to two Medical Attendant visas will be issued for people to accompany the patient. If you're only undergoing short-term treatment of up to 60 days, you can apply for a e-Medical visa.
Visitors staying in India for less than 72 hours can obtain a Transit visa. Otherwise a Tourist visa is required. A confirmed airline booking for the onward journey must be shown when applying for the visa.
Some other lesser-used Indian visas are also available in certain circumstances. These include Sports visas, Mountaineering visas, Missionary visas, and Diplomatic visas.