India presents tremendous opportunity for international business, and its corporate immigration system is relatively open, simple, and straight-forward. The recent additions of a five-year multiple-entry Business (B) Visa and a new electronic e-Business Visa have made business travel to India even more convenient. However, companies should be aware that challenging aspects to the immigration system still remain – particularly when it comes to the specific definition of “casual business activity” and what activities are permissible under an Indian business visa.
Growing Opportunities and Corporate Immigration
By 2022, it is projected that India will be the most populous nation in the world, surpassing China’s almost 1.4 billion citizens. In terms of its economy, and depending on the indices, India ranks anywhere from seventh to fourth largest in the world. However, it is currently the fastest growing economy at 7 percent GDP growth, and Indian President Narendra Modi has vowed to double India’s current level of export of goods and services. Regardless of the mode of measurement, or the potential plans for growth, India is now undisputedly a major economic force in the world economy, and all indicators are that this influence is only increasing. India’s exports are well-known to both consumers and business – minerals, textiles, IT and software, and various business services, including the stereotypical customer service call centers. But the Indian diaspora of talent throughout the world is not typically listed in global trade reports. It is estimated that more than 20 million persons of Indian heritage have emigrated into the rest of the world, many in skilled occupations such as engineering, medicine, technology, and the physical sciences.
Perhaps even less-well documented is the recent increase of immigration into India – both in terms of Indians abroad returning to the country, and skilled foreign nationals seeking opportunity in India’s expanding economy. The economic growth is creating both significant demand for employed foreign nationals, as well as foreign entrepreneurs and investors looking to profit. As a result, India continues to make significant improvements to its corporate immigration scheme, as the country expands its influence into global markets. In general, India’s immigration system is relatively simple and straight-forward. However, nuances on case-to-case and regional basis can make it challenging to unfamiliar business and employment-based foreign travelers.
As part of continued efforts to improve their immigration systems, India has simplified and improved the country’s business visa system by increasing the utility of traditional business visas and expanding the e-visa system specifically for business travel.
Five-Year Multiple-Entry Business Visas
In the 94 Indian overseas consular posts and visa processing centers that have biometric collection capability, visa officials have begun issuing traditional Business (B) Visas with five-year validity and multiple-entries. This is a welcome by-product of the overall push to further modernize India’s visa processes with technology, and provides significant cost and time savings for frequent business travelers. We expect to see more Indian overseas missions begin to offer this option in the coming months as visa application services become more modernized through the installation of biometric collection equipment and the use of third-party, private-contract visa processing centers. To assess whether this five-year multiple-entry visa is available in the Indian consular post for your region, please reach out to your Pro-Link GLOBAL Client Relationship team member.
Last December, Pro-Link GLOBAL reported the expansion and transition of the former “e-tourist” visa into the “e-visa,” taking in business travelers and medical tourists, in addition to the traditional tourist visitors. See our Immigration Dispatch of December 12. That plan has now been fully implemented and is up and running since April 1. As we reported earlier, nationals of 161 countries are eligible for these 60-day electronic visas twice in each calendar year. Once issued, the visa has a useable window of 120 days from date of application. These new visas have now been formally named and subcategorized as the e-Tourist Visa, the e-Business Visa, and the e-Medical Visa. The e-Tourist and e-Business options are single-entry visas, while the e-Medical visa provides three entries into India.
Under this electronic visa system, visas are available through a convenient online application process. The applicant then prints an approval letter to present to immigration authorities upon arrival at one of the 24 airports currently offering the service, where officers then affix the visa stamp to the traveler’s passport. No visit to the Indian overseas counselor post is required.
“Casual Business” Activity Definition Still Challenging
Perhaps the most inconvenient aspect of Indian business visas, however, remains the question of whether a business visa is the proper route for an intended activity. Indian business visas – whether a traditional Business (B) Visa or the new e-Business Visa – only authorize “casual business” activity. Determining whether planned business activities fall within that definition has been a perennial point of confusion, with no official definition given for all consular posts to apply. Culling the various Indian High Commission resources available, Pro-Link GLOBAL offers this list of permissible “casual business activities”:
- Work related to projects of national importance, including those undertaken by public sector undertakings, and conducting business tours of foreigners or business relating to it;
- Establishing an industrial/business venture, or exploring possibilities to set up an industrial/business venture in India;
- Purchasing/selling industrial products or commercial products or consumer durables in India;
- Technical meetings/discussions, attending Board meetings, and conducting general meetings for providing business services support;
- Recruiting manpower;
- Consultations regarding exhibitions, and participating in exhibitions, trade fairs, business fairs;
- Experts/specialists visiting for short durations in connection with an ongoing project with the objective of monitoring the progress of the work, conducting meetings with Indian customers and/or providing some high level technical guidance;
- Pre-sales or post-sales activity not amounting to actual execution of any contract or project;
- Trainees of multinational companies/corporate houses coming for in-house training in the regional hubs of concerned companies located in India; or
- AIESEC student internships on project based work in companies/industries.
Specifically excluded from the definition of casual business activity are money lending, petty trading, and any fulltime employment in India involving payment of salary. These activities require Indian Employment (E) Visas.
Note that there is still much room in the above definition for subjectivity on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, Pro-Link GLOBAL recognizes an “unwritten rule” at work in many cases that the longer the applicant’s stay and more frequent their use of business visas in India, the greater the chance that their activity will be deemed not to be casual business activity, and will instead require an Employment (E) Visa.
For analysis of whether a particular activity or trip may be properly performed on an Indian business visa, always reach out to your Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialist well ahead of any planned business travel to India so that the proper visa may be obtained. For helpful general guidance on the use of business visas throughout the world, read our recent blog “GLOBAL TRENDS | Business Visas Receiving Increased Scrutiny” here and download our useful reference sheet “Business Visas vs. Work Permits” here.
How These Changes Affect You
India presents tremendous opportunities for international business, and the opportunities are only increasing in this fast-growing major economy. The corporate immigration processes is generally open, simple, and straight-forward, and is becoming even more so for business travelers with the recent additions of a five-year multiple-entry Business (B) Visa at many Indian consular posts and new 60-day single-entry e-Business Visa. However, nuances in the Indian process still require expert guidance from knowledgeable Indian Immigration Specialist, especially in determining whether an anticipated business activity falls within the definition of casual business activity that may be performed on a business visa.
Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader
This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. We would like to remind you that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please reach out to your immigration specialist or your client relations manager at Pro-Link GLOBAL should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by your Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management team. We worked with our PLG | KGNM India Offices “Formula Corporate Solutions India” and “Lexagent Services Pvt. Ltd.” to provide you this update.
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