India: Changes In India's Immigration Laws And Policies

Last Updated: 13 November 2015
Article by Pushpalatha Iyer

Many significant changes applicable to Indian immigration law have been introduced recently by the Government of India. With a view to sustaining India's economic development, protecting the interests of Indian nationals working overseas and maintaining reciprocity with foreign countries, these modifications go a long way to boost the India Inc.'s current 'Make in India' bandwagon. 

Change of Employer for an Employment Visa Holder

An Employment visa holder, who needs to change his or her employer once he is in India, has to apply to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for approval. The MHA may, on the basis of the merits of each case grant the change of employer, but this can be done only once during the five year tenure of the original employment visa.

The criteria based on which MHA could consider approving the application are: 

  • A foreign national who holds a senior position or is a highly skilled person within an organization in India;
  • When a foreign national changes employment between a  registered holding company and its subsidiaries; and
  • The company that originally employed the foreign national issues a no objection letter. 

Converting a dependent ('X') visa into an employment visa 

A dependent (X) visa is given to the spouse of a foreign national employed in India. Generally an 'X entry visa holder is not allowed to work to generate any income while in India by way of Employment, commerce, business or any other economic activity. The MHA now allows that an X visa holder any convert it into an employment visa within India provided that:

  • The dependent visa holder has accompanied their spouse who is on a  valid employment visa; and
  • The dependent visa holder independently qualifies for an employment visa.

MHA could take approximately two to three months to process these documents.

Electronic Visas and Visa on Arrival

Visitors from over 40 countries, including Israel, Palestine, Germany and the U.S. can now enter India with the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) also referred to as a Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) that can be obtained before arriving at designated airports in India.

This facility is available for international travellers who visit India for recreation, sightseeing, casual visits to meet friends or relatives, short duration medical treatment or casual business. The request may be approved within 72 hours of submitting the application.  If the ETA is granted, travel and stay within India for 30 days from the date of arrival is allowed without any extensions. 

The Indian government, in due course, is likely to extend this facility to nationals of most counties except those from countries like Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

PIO OCI cards merger: 

On January 9, 2015, the Government of India passed an ordinance declaring People of Indian Origin (pio) cards to be now called as Overseas Citizen of India (oci) cards. 

Person of Indian Origin (pio) Card was issued to a foreign national who could prove his or her Indian origin up to three prior generations. A foreign national spouse of a citizen of India could also apply for a pio card. A pio card holder could originally enter into India without visa for 15 years and take up employment without visa. A pio card holder was exempted from registration with FRRO or FRO if the period of stay in India is less than 180 days. 

In September 2014, this period of 15 years was extended to a lifetime with total exemption from Registration for a pio card holder. With the recent merger of pio and oci cards, a pio holder will get the all the benefits as a oci holder gets. 

Overseas Citizens of India card may be issued to eligible foreign nationals including, among a few other categories, certain persons of Indian origin and individuals whose parents or grandparents have migrated from India after January 26, 1950, and their minor children. Spouses of foreign origin of a citizen of India or spouse of foreign origin of an oci cardholder whose marriage has been registered and subsisted for a continuous period of not less than two years are also eligible to obtain an oci card.

Registration as an oci is a one-time process that grants certain benefits like that is lifelong multi-entry, multi–purpose visa to visit, live or work in India. An oci card holder is not required to register with any FRRO or FRO for any length of stay. 

Citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries specified by the central government are not eligible for the oci card.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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