[Edited to add: According to a report in the Indian Express, the Indian government is now considering changing the rules to allow for visas that permit 3 entries within 90 or 180 days.]
If you have an American visa passport (or a European one), you can visit most countries free of visa requirements.
India’s not one of them. Almost all foreigners need visas for India. (Citizens of five countries qualify for 30-day visas-on-arrival.) In fact, India has a whole bunch of visa categories: Tourist, Business, Journalist, Conference, Transit visa, Entry Visa, Employment, Student, Missionary, Research, Sports. Recently, thanks largely to a single terrorist, the rules were tightened further.
India had always given long-term multiple entry tourist visas to foreigners who wished to visit the country regularly. Thousands of visitors took advantage of it, including people who used it essentially as a business visit visa.
David Coleman Headley allegedly used it for a more nefarious purpose – to research potential targets in Mumbai ahead of the horrendous terror attacks on the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, and a major train station among others.
The Indian government will now prohibit a visitor – even one with a multi-year, multiple re-entry visa – from returning in under two months. Exceptions may be permitted with an advance itinerary – if for instance your travels take you into other countries and back through India for two or more short stays. However, if the total period exceeds 90 days (or 180 days, depending on the visa), then the two month gap becomes a requirement.
The government is also becoming stricter about the de facto use of tourist visas for other purposes – like business.
People with Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status do not need to get Indian visas, no matter what nationality they have.
We’ll all get used the the new visa rules eventually. But meanwhile, the first, very public, evidence of the visa inconvenience showed up in the Indian press.
- Eminent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates – the gentleman who shot into the headlines after being arrested on his own front porch by mistake – didn’t get a visa in time. The rules had been tightened after his application went in, and the consulate went by the new rules. Apparently they wanted a copy of his birth certificate and his college diploma…
- Andrew Lycett, from the UK, had visited in November, and had a tourist visa valid for six months. But since he needed to re-enter within 60 days, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the right type of emergency…
- Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad tried to get a visa from London, though she is from New York. The passport was sent to New York for verification, and hadn’t returned by the time the festival started.
(Of course, Delhi is in the grip of fog season, which adds its own complications to travel. Today’s news is that visibility is down to 100 meters, and over 100 flights are affected. Not to mention the trains.)
If terrorists measure their success in terms of inconvenience caused to the public at large, this is another point for them. Along with shoe-removal when visiting the US and several other countries, no liquids permitted on board, a wide range of items prohibited in carry-on luggage, finger-printing at Immigration in some countries, and coming soon to an airport near you, full-body scanners.
Then again, I suppose all these measures are generating jobs and economic activity…