India: Authorities Introduce New “Project” Visa
India has introduced a new Project Visa for foreign nationals working in the Indian power and steel sectors. It has also issued clarification regarding the minimum salary requirement for Employment Visa holders.
The Indian authorities have announced the following two developments:
Project (P) Visa Introduced
Skilled and highly-skilled foreign nationals seeking to work on projects in the power and steel sectors in India are now eligible for the new Project (“P”) Visa, according to recent guidelines from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
P visa holders will be authorized to work exclusively for the specific Indian power or steel company, on the specific project, and at the specific location identified in the P visa application. They will be strictly prohibited from working on any other project or at any other location in India, whether with the same company or a different one. P visas will bear an endorsement with the name and location of the project for which the visa was granted.
Duration of Stay and Registration with Local Authorities
P visas will be issued for a period of up to one year or the duration of the project, whichever is less, and may be extended in India at the discretion of the MHA. P visa holders who will remain in India for more than 180 days will be required to register with their local Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) or Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) within 14 days of their arrival in India.
Restrictions on Reentry and Follow-Up Work
Upon completion of the project, foreign nationals will be prohibited from working for the company that sponsored their P visa application for a period of two years from the project’s start date. However, after departing India, if they are needed to attend to any maintenance or commissioning issues which arise in connection with the project for which they were granted a P visa, they will be allowed to do so using a non-extendable Business Visa. The Business visa will most likely be issued for a fixed period based on need, as indicated in the invitation letter provided by the Indian sponsoring company.
Projects Located in “Protected/Restricted Areas”
Foreign nationals applying to work on projects in India’s “Protected or Restricted Areas” must apply for advance authorization from the MHA and obtain a Protected/Restricted Area permit, in addition to the P visa. Protected/Restricted Areas are areas to which the Indian government has restricted access by non-Indian nationals for security reasons, among others.
Limitations on Number of P Visas Issued Per Project
The authorities have clarified that there will be “ceilings” (i.e., limitations) on the number of P visas that will be issued in connection with individual projects. The ceilings will be determined on the basis of several factors, including the type (i.e., steel or power) and size of the project. If a ceiling has been reached for a particular project but more foreign workers are needed, the sponsor must obtain clearance from the Ministry of Labour and Employment before sponsoring additional P visa applications in connection with the project. Additional information regarding P visa ceilings is available here.
Responsibilities of the Sponsoring Indian Company
Indian companies will be responsible for ensuring that the P visa holders they sponsor comply with the terms of their stay in India, including timely departure from India upon expiry of their visa. Future applications sponsored by companies that fail to comply with the P visa rules may be delayed and/or denied on that basis.
Clarification Regarding Minimum Salary Requirement for E Visa Holders
Allowances paid to employment visa holders in cash may be counted toward the minimum salary threshold in addition to their base salary, according to recent guidance issued by the Indian government. Allowances paid in kind (e.g., housing, transportation) may not be counted toward the minimum required salary amount. As previously reported, India requires employers to pay employment visa holders a minimum annual salary of more than US$ 25,000, with exceptions for foreign nationals working in India as ethnic cooks, translators, non-English language teachers and members of Foreign High Commissions and Embassies.
The authorities have also clarified that the minimum salary requirement applies to all E visas issued on or after November 1, 2010. Foreign nationals holding E visas issued before November 1, 2010 who receive a salary of less than US$ 25,000 may remain in India until the expiry of their visa; however they may only be allowed to extend their visa once for up to three months if they do not meet the minimum salary requirement at the time of the extension request, and they will subsequently be required to leave the country. Foreign nationals holding E visas issued on or after November 1, 2010 who receive a salary of less than US$ 25,000 are required to depart India within three months of the date of their entry to India, irrespective of the period for which their visa was originally granted.
In addition, the authorities have made clear that foreign nationals working in the modeling, advertising and film industries in India are subject to the minimum salary requirement and will be required to demonstrate their compliance within three months of their entry to India. However, as these nationals are essentially self-employed, they will be allowed to provide documents to their local FRRO or FRO showing that their annual income for their activities in India will exceed US$ 25,000 as proof of their compliance. E visa holders in these industries who fail to produce such proof within three months of entry to India will be required to depart the country at the end of the three-month period.
Implementation of the New Guidelines
Fragomen is monitoring the implementation of the new guidelines by the authorities in India and by the Indian Missions abroad. It is expected to take some time for the guidelines to be implemented fully and consistently across the various Missions.
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