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 Poorvi Chothani - An attorney, licensed to practice law in India and in the State of New York, USA

Introduction
Growing interest in doing business in India has seen a rise in the number of foreigners travelling to India and this is expected to increase in the near future. Indian law does not place restrictions on the number of foreign nationals that can work or do business in India, but the entry, stay, movements and departure of foreign nationals into India are regulated by various Indian acts and rules framed by the Indian Central Government.

General Information
All foreign nationals planning to visit India should have a valid passport or other travel document and an appropriate visa. All passengers arriving in India are subject to immigration checks on their arrival into and departure from the country. There are no provisions for visas upon arrival. Those arriving in India without a visa bearing the correct validity dates and number of entries are subject to immediate deportation. Foreign nationals who have obtained Persons of Indian Origin cards or are registered as Overseas Citizens of India, which are granted to certain foreign nationals of Indian origin or their spouses, are exempt from certain visa requirements.

Applicants should apply to the appropriate Indian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate (the Post) depending on the location of their residence. For instance, applicants who are citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) may apply for Indian visas at the Indian Embassy in Beijing. However, PRC citizens holding Hong Kong ID cards can apply for visas at the Post in Hong Kong. The Post at Hong Kong may issue visas to applicants who do not normally reside in its jurisdiction, after obtaining a clearance from the Indian Missions in the applicant’s country of residence.

A foreign national should apply for a visa depending on the category most suited to the purpose of the visit, which cannot be changed once the foreign national arrives in India. The Posts grant visas with validity from the date of issue and for the period requested by the applicant. There is a common visa application form for all categories of visas, which has to be submitted with the prescribed visa fee and supporting documentation. Visa fees once received are not refunded even if the application is withdrawn or the visa is denied.

In India, the Indian Bureau of Immigration grants an applicant entry for a specific time depending on the purpose of the visit. The change of visa status from one category to another is normally not allowed. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has the power to convert (in limited circumstances) or extend visas within India.

Following are the most commonly used visa categories:
Tourist Visa (‘T’): Tourist visas may be granted with a validity of 6 months up to 10 years. Irrespective of the validity of the visa, the maximum period of stay within India is limited to 6 months (180 days).

Entry Visa (‘X’): These kinds of visas, granted only to persons of Indian origin, are valid for 6 months to 5 years stay with multiple entries. Further, members of the family of a person employed in India are also eligible for this visa. Foreign nationals accompanying their spouse who is on an employment, business or other category long-term visa may obtain an Entry visa before coming to India. However, if the spouse wishes to take up any employment in India, then he or she will be required to return to the country of origin and obtain a requisite employment visa.

Business Visa (‘B’): Business visas are issued with a validity of 6 months to 10 years, with multiple entries to foreign nationals who wish to travel to India for business, or in connection with joint ventures in India. However, the period of continuous stay in India, for each visit, under this category is limited but can be extended within India.

Employment Visa (‘E’): Foreign nationals with high levels of professional skills and qualifications are granted visas to take up employment in India. The duration of the Employment visa would depend on the period of employment contract and the validity of the applicant’s passport. An application for this visa should be supported with documents, including but not limited to, an appointment letter, employment contract, applicant’s resume and proof of authenticity of the employing organization in India.

Student Visa (‘S’): Student visas are valid for the period of study and allow multiple-entries to bona fide students who wish to pursue regular studies at recognized institutions in India. Applicants for this visa should carry a letter confirming admission from the institution along with evidence of financial arrangements for their stay in India. If a student is in India on a tourist or other type of visa and obtains admission into an institution in India, the student will be required to return to the home country and obtain a student visa.

Conference Visa (‘C’): These visas are for applicants who want to attend international approved conferences, organized under the aegis of the Indian Government. The invitation letters from the organizers should mention details of clearance accorded by the appropriate ministry.

Registration of Foreign Nationals
Most foreign nationals, including those of Indian origin, visiting India on a visa that permits a stay of more than 180 days must register with the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (FRRO) having jurisdiction over the place where the foreigner intends to stay within 14 days of his/her arrival. In addition, some foreign nationals may be issued visas indicating that registration is required, irrespective of the duration of stay, should be sure to register with the appropriate FRRO within 14 days. A foreign national is required to appear in person before the appropriate Registration Officer along with relevant documents. Nationals of certain countries are required to register within 24 hours to 7 days of their arrival. In addition, a foreign national may be required to provide an HIV test report from a WHO recognized institution.

Registration of Foreign Nationals staying at Hotels
All foreign nationals are required to fill up Form-C under the Registration of Foreigners Rules when they stay in any hotel or commercial premises. It is the responsibility of the hotel owner to ensure that the foreign national complies with this requirement. This register has to be made available for inspection on demand by designated officials. Even at the time of departure, the foreign national has to provide information with regard to date and time of departure and the address to which he or she is proceeding.

Persons of Indian Origin [PIO]
A foreign national, who can prove his or her Indian origin up to three previous generations (or the spouse of a citizen of India or person of Indian origin), is eligible for a PIO Card (the Card), which is valid for fifteen years from the date of issue. Citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries as may be specified by the Central Government are not eligible to receive these Cards.

The Card gives the holder visa-free entry into India for fifteen years and exemption from registration with an FRRO if the period of stay in India does not exceed 180 days. In addition, PIO card holders enjoy parity with Non-Resident Indians in economic, financial and educational fields. PIO holders can acquire, hold, transfer or dispose of immovable properties in India (except agricultural/ plantation properties), open Indian Rupee (INR) bank accounts, lend INRs to Indian residents and make investments in India. PIO card holders’ children can also obtain admission in educational institutions in India on parity with Non-Resident Indians. However, they cannot exercise any political rights, visit restricted/protected areas without permission, or undertake mountaineering, research and missionary work without additional permission.

The Card is issued to eligible applicants through the Indian Posts in the country of their citizenship. Those staying in India on long term visas may apply for it from the appropriate FRRO.

Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI):
From January 2006, the Indian Government implemented the law regarding registration of eligible foreign nationals as Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs). Eligible foreign nationals include, among a few other categories, certain persons of Indian origin and individuals whose parents or grand parents migrated from India after 26th January, 1950 and their minor children. This is subject to the applicant being a citizen of a country which allows dual citizenship in some form or the other. This provision is extended to such citizens of all countries other than those who had ever been citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Registration as an OCI is a one time process that grants all the benefits that are available to PIO Card holders with some additional benefits. These include a life long multi-entry, multi-purpose visa to visit, live or work in India and are not subject to travel restrictions within the country or employment visa requirements that apply to PIOs. An OCI is not required to register with an FRRO for any length of stay in India. An individual registered as an OCI for 5 years and who has lived in India for one year is eligible to gain "full" Indian Citizenship. To avail of "full" Indian citizenship, a foreign national will have to relinquish his foreign nationality.

The OCI registration process is to be initiated online, at the Ministry of Home Affair’s website, and completed by sending the supporting documents to the appropriate office. An application fee has to be submitted with the hard copy of the application. Individuals holding PIO cards may pay reduced fees.

An OCI certificate is issued to the applicant within a few weeks unless there are reports of criminal cases, in which case it could take longer. All applications are scrutinized by the Central Government of India. The registration is subject to cancellation, if it is found that such registration was availed of with the aid of fraud, false representation or concealment of any material fact.

Individuals wishing to get a PIO card have to apply only in their country of citizenship. However, individuals can register as OCIs at the Indian mission or post in the country where they reside or in some instances even while they are in India.

Conclusion:
Indian nationals who have recently acquired nationality of another country are required to surrender their Indian passport to the Post for cancellation at the time of applying for an Indian visa for the first time with their foreign passport. Please note that a PIO Card holder whose travel to India, is for a purpose other than a visit, requires an appropriate visa. However, this does not apply to an OCI. Certain foreign nationals may acquire citizenship of India by naturalisation if he or she has resided in India for the prescribed duration. Under the OCI scheme, eligible OCIs may acquire Indian citizenship after staying in India for one year provided he/she has been registered as an OCI for five years.

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