India is a popular destination, with increasing numbers of executives and business travellers seeking or filling professional positions there every year.

There are many challenges facing expatriates, including culture of work, working conditions, compensation rates, competition, work permits and other issues. We examine below some significant changes to the Indian immigration rules in recent times that affect expatriates and those seeking work in India.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in India recently made certain radical changes regarding Indian visa applications specifically relating to business visas, as it was evident that individuals travelling to India on business visits were working in India in direct contravention of the purpose stated on their visas.

Business visas
The government of India has, therefore, attempted to define what can be constituted as allowable activities for the purposes of a business visa. Broadly speaking, the following activities are classed as business activities:

Establishing a joint venture or setting up a new company.
Exploring business opportunities or attending seminars.
Purchasing or selling industrial/commercial products or consumer durables.
Attending meetings, discussions to provide business service support, or board meetings.
Recruiting manpower for the Indian company.
Attending exhibitions, trade fairs and business fairs.
Transacting business with suppliers, both current and potential, to evaluate or monitor quality, give specifications, place orders and negotiate further supplies relating to goods or services procured from India.
Foreign experts/specialists on a visit of short duration in connection with an ongoing project for monitoring the progress of the work, conducting meetings with Indian customers and/or to provide high-level technical guidance.
Foreign nationals coming to India for pre-sales or post-sales activities not amounting to actual execution of any contract or project.
Foreign trainees of multinational companies coming for an in-house training in the regional hubs of the company concerned in India.
Foreign students sponsored by AIESEC for internship on project based work in companies/industries.
As a direct consequence of these new regulations, Indian embassies worldwide have put in place strict criteria in issuing business visas to any individual who intends to travel to India for the execution of projects and/or contracts or activities outside the permissible activities as stated above. Therefore, any business visit applications which are currently with Indian embassies will be returned to the applicant unprocessed, if the letter of support from their company states that the individual will execute projects and/ or contracts.

In light of the above, the Indian government had issued a notice to individuals who were already in India on business visits, engaged in projects and/or contracts, to leave the country latest by 31 October 2009, or before the expiry of their visa, whichever is sooner. Unfortunately, any such individual would not be granted an extension to their existing stay beyond that date. However, those individuals on business visits who are currently in India and are engaged in genuine business activities as above are not required to leave India. It is also worth noting that an individual cannot switch (change immigration status) from a business visa to employment visa without having to leave India.

Employment visas

Generally speaking, in order to qualify for employment visas, individuals should be skilled in their profession or employed by an Indian company on a contractual or full-time basis at a senior level, such as a technical expert or manager. However, the MHA is reluctant to issue employment visas for jobs which can be filled by skilled Indian labour force or for jobs which are clerical or secretarial in nature.

An important change with regard to employment visas is that any such visas must be obtained from an individual`s country of citizenship, provided the period of residence of that individual in that particular country is two years or more. This effectively means that all individuals outside their country of citizenship who fit the above criteria and intend to travel to India for employment will be required to plan in advance and make arrangements to travel to their country of citizenship before they are able to apply for a visa. It is, however, important to note that individuals applying for business visas can still apply for a visa from either their home country or a country where they hold a valid legal residence.

An Indian employer will now be held responsible for the orderly conduct of a foreign national during their stay in India, and must also ensure that they leave on or before the expiry of their visas.

Any individuals and employers who are found to violate the above can face penalties, fines and/or imprisonment. In addition to this, it can be difficult for defaulting employers to obtain visas for their future assignees and individuals may also face bans for their re-entry to India.

Chinese nationals

Another important change is in relation to Chinese nationals applying for employment visas. It has been announced that Chinese nationals will now be subject to a mandatory security clearance. The MHA, upon receipt of an application from an embassy, will forward a copy of the application to the Intelligence Bureau and the Ministry of Labour in India for their review. The MHA will then, on the basis of these recommendations, issue guidelines to Indian embassies either to approve or reject applications. It is important to note that this process could take up to 60 working days, sometimes shorter or longer in certain instances. Accordingly, any clients who have Chinese nationals going to India for employment must bear in mind the above timescales.

Health issue related to swine flu

All passengers travelling to India, irrespective of the duration of stay, will be screened at international airports in India on their arrival for swine influenza, and are therefore required to carry a declaration form (Health Card). Individuals found to have any symptoms connected with the flu may have to undergo quarantine, and, in certain cases, be referred for hospitalisation.

Important change for individuals applying in the UK

As the Indian Citizenship Act does not allow for dual citizenship, holding or travelling on an Indian passport after acquisition of foreign citizenship is an offence under the Passport Act and can attract penalties. In light of this, all foreign nationals of Indian origin who have acquired a foreign citizenship and are applying for an Indian visa, OCI/PIO card or other consular services are now required to surrender their Indian passports (valid and/or expired) to the High Commission of India in London or to the Consulate General of India at Birmingham or Edinburgh, who would then issue a surrender certificate to the applicants, normally within seven working days, subject to a fee.