Business travel to India: Some practical tips for your visa journey

Business travel to India: Some practical tips for your visa journey
Business travel to India: Some practical tips for your visa journey

An Indian visa strategist demystifies some of the jargon that is often associated with very simple travel procedures for the country and analyses how the e-visa is changing the landscape for business travel to India. When one hears the words Indian visas, one usually has images of nightmare queues and waking up at ridiculous hours of the morning to trek to the Indian mission. Well, with the advent of an online visa (the so called e-Tourist Visa (e-TV for short)), let's examine the impact these changes have had on the business traveller to India. Firstly, the e-TV is a single entry 30-day visa that can be used for tourist visits, meeting family and friends, medical tourism or casual business visits. It can only be applied for online twice in any one year from a minimum of four days in advance of the date of arrival with a window of 30 days. After about four-five days, the applicant receives an e-mail confirming their visa, which they need to print out and take to India. They will then be issued with a Tourist Visa on Arrival at passport control in India. There is no strict definition of what “casual business” means in this context, but the implication would be that this would encapsulate explorative visits to potential partners and sites or fact finding missions. It would also allow a business traveller to explore general business opportunities for his business in India. It must always be looked at in context and should any of the proposed activities of the business traveller fall within the categories for a full blown Business visa or they require a multiple entry visa or a visa for a period greater than the permitted 30 days, then a full Business visa would need to be applied for in the normal way. Before I go on, it is worth mentioning at this point that many companies around the world are beginning to employ persons of Indian origin (PIOs) who can take on projects in India, with the advantage that their cultural and language skills provide for a smoother integration of the business relationship between the two entities. These and many smaller Indian businessmen with a foreign nationality are increasingly turning to the Overseas Citizen of India Card (OCI Card), which is granted to PIOs and effectively provides for a lifelong any-purpose visa (with a few exceptions), without any registration requirements for foreigners, typically required by Business and Employment visa holders who stay a continuous period of 180 days or more in India. There is a strict eligibility criteria and the process takes around six to eight weeks, but the benefit of no further visa applications for business or employment visits to India can be well worth it for the business traveller. With these two exceptions aside, the normal course for a business traveller would be to apply to one of the VFS centres for either a Business or Employment Visa. Business visas are typically granted for between six months to one year, though it is likely your first Business visa could be anything between three to six months. Two-year Business visas can be granted, but are rare. Employment visas, on the other hand are typically granted for one year only, with yearly extensions (up to a maximum of five years) available in India via application to the local Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). However, what's more important is the activity the traveller is undertaking in India. If he/she only intends a short visit of one day or two weeks, if the activity falls within the Employment visa category, then a full Employment visa will still need to be applied for. So it is best to seek advice beforehand on the proposed activities in India to determine the correct visa category to apply for. As part of the application process, it is now mandatory for certain visa categories, including Employment visas, to require personal submission by the applicant to provide photo and biometric enrolment to assist in tracking the visa holder in India. Employment visas are usually endorsed with the name of the employing entity. With a few exceptions, a change of employer is not permitted in India, without first exiting the country and re-applying for a new Employment visa in the applicant's home country. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that with the Indian systems being more streamlined, the potential for falling foul of the rules is a strong possibility, particularly if you enter on the wrong visa. For example, the immigration officers are familiar with the activities of each category of visa and it would not come as a surprise that people have been caught out, not just at the entry point, but also exit points, where a verbal discussion of the purpose of their visit does not coincide with the visa issued to them. Although this can be a moot issue at the point of exit, remember the individual could face sanctions, including fines, potential jail for flouting immigration laws, deportation and potential black listing from further visits to India. Once in India, you can go about your business. However, if you are intending to be in India for more than 180 days, your visa will be endorsed with a registration requirement, where you will be required to register at the local FRRO. For Employment visas, this will more often be mandatory as the period of stay is usually one year and a Residency Permit will also be issued. There will be additional formalities that will need to be complied with if, once registered, you change address, locality or exit from India within the validity period of the visa. It is also important that all tax laws are complied with during any visit, whether on a Business or Employment visa. To this end, a PAN Card, or permanent account number, will be required. This is a unique 10-digit alphanumeric identity, allotted to each taxpayer by the Income Tax Department under the supervision of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. It is also issued to foreign nationals. This number is mandatory for most financial transactions such as opening a bank account, receiving taxable salary or professional fees, sale or purchase of assets above specified limits etc. The PAN Card is unique and valid for the life-time of the PAN-holder throughout India. It is not affected by a change of address or employment. It is advisable that individuals locating to India for Employment commence the process for a PAN card application alongside their visa applications. Milan Zala [mzala@outcom.co.uk] is an Indian Visa Strategist. *This brief outline provides basic information about working visas in India and does not constitute legal advice. Nor does it deal with any other compliance, employment, regulatory or tax requirements under Indian law, which must be considered, as applicable.

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