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As an Indian citizen, this has always been my trouble. No matter where I go, I always need a visa. My father has exhausted his passports thrice because he travels a good amount. In short, we need visas for every place.

So my question simply is Why?

India is a developing country, agreed. But we are also one of the fastest growing economies and seem to have okayish diplomatic relations with most countries.

We have Indian diaspora in a lot of countries which I would presume should improve as well as worsen the situation. Immigration is pretty high outside India and I don't disagree to that, but #76 in the most useful passports list for a country with a large population and a lot of talented people seems quite odd.

Are there any reasons which I am missing out or has there been any analysis on this which would make this oddity clearer to me.

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IMHO it's not really a travel question, but a political one. – Dirty-flow Jul 30 '14 at 10:03
@dirty-flow it is about limiting traveling options to one out of 6 people in the world. I think it is a good question for this platform, as it fits the curiosity tag. – user141 Jul 30 '14 at 11:45
I agree with @andra. We have had this discussion on meta earlier and to me it seems that it's a valid question. I agree that it will generate some opinion based answers, but I do specifically ask for backed up research. I strongly suggest down voters to comment why they dislike the question. – Aditya Somani Jul 30 '14 at 15:51
Where do you take the "#74 in the most useful passports list" from? I don't dispute the claim, I'm just interested in seeing the list. – O. R. Mapper Jul 30 '14 at 15:58
@O.R.Mapper I took it off the Wiki on Visa Requirements for Indian Citizens. The relevant pdf is linked there as well. – Aditya Somani Jul 30 '14 at 16:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I believe the answer is immigration, immigration and immigration (real or perceived). In Europe at least, visa requirements and enforcement measures are motivated mostly by the risk that the people in question would try to enter the country and stay there illegally (and of course all the political posturing around that risk).

It could be argued that immigration is generally a net gain for a country (cf. your point about talented people) or that the risk of illegal immigration is overblown or entirely the result of an overly restrictive policy regarding legal immigration but none of this changes the politics.

Just to provide some direct evidence of all this, the following is from the preamble of the Schengen visa code:

In accordance with Article 61 of the Treaty, the creation of an area in which persons may move freely should be accompanied by measures with respect to external border controls, asylum and immigration.


As regards visa policy, the establishment of a ‘common corpus’ of legislation, particularly via the consolidation and development of the acquis (the relevant provisions of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 and the Common Consular Instructions, is one of the fundamental components of ‘further development of the common visa policy as part of a multi-layer system aimed at facilitating legitimate travel and tackling illegal immigration through further harmonisation of national legislation and handling practices at local consular missions’, as defined in the Hague Programme: strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union.


It is necessary to set out rules on the transit through international areas of airports in order to combat illegal immigration. Thus nationals from a common list of third countries should be required to hold airport transit visas. Nevertheless, in urgent cases of mass influx of illegal immigrants, Member States should be allowed to impose such a requirement on nationals of third countries other than those listed in the common list. Member States’ individual decisions should be reviewed on an annual basis.

This is only one example but it's explicitly all about immigration. I think the other considerations (reciprocity, passports) only factor in tangentially.

Note that until now the EU has not really been insisting so strongly on reciprocity, so that US citizens still enjoy visa-free visits to the whole Schengen area despite the fact that after years of discussion there are still several EU countries whose citizens are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. Similarly, some or all EU citizens enjoy visa-free (or visa-on-arrival) access to countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and most of South America so reciprocity is clearly overemphasized as an explanation.

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The latest amendment of the Schengen visa regulations (EC No 1289/2013) has a far stricter reading when it comes to reciprocity requirements. As per the regulation, the Commission has been notified by several member states of the lack of reciprocity and if I understand it correctly, must two years after the notifications (that would be February 2016) temporarily suspend visa free travel to the Schengen area for the affected citizens. Currently, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan and the US has not fully implemented this reciprocity requirement. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 30 '14 at 12:17
This is definitely the biggest reason. This is also why there should be little expectation for this to change; the visa difficulties aren't an accident but an intentional act to restrict immigration from India and all other less wealthy countries. The large talented population and growing diasporas are meaningful arguments to continue requiring visas and not relax the requirements. – Peteris Jul 30 '14 at 19:05
@Tor-EinarJarnbjo We'll see. In the meantime, it can't possibly explain the current restrictions against India, in general. – Relaxed Jul 30 '14 at 22:56
@Tor-EinarJarnbjo Article 4b (5) provides another way out (after the report that pushed the deadline to 2016). – Relaxed Jul 31 '14 at 10:17
@AditySomani A visa-on-arrival system available to anybody cannot really work in the current framework. That would mean either accepting almost everybody (thus more-or-less the same as visa-free, only with a fee and a bit of paperwork – which is fine by me but is exactly what the visa requirement is supposed to prevent) or huge numbers of people that need to be brought back to their country, which would cost a lot. – Relaxed Jul 31 '14 at 22:45

As one simple but quantifiable example, two of the conditions for a country to qualify for the US's Visa Waiver Program are:

  1. Their Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate must be below 3%, and
  2. The country must provide visa-free access to US citizens.

India fails on both counts:

  1. The AVRR for Indian citizens in 2013 was 18.7%, 6x higher than required. This is worse than eg. Botswana (17.3%), although nowhere near the bottom of the pack (Somalia at over 75%!).
  2. US citizens require a visa for India.
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I think #2 is a chicken-and-egg issue: visa-free travel is usually allowed on a reciprocal basis. If both the US and India were interested in allowing visa-free travel for each other's citizens, based on criteria like #1, they would negotiate, and upon agreement both would simultaneously drop their visa requirements. So #1 is probably the real obstruction. – Nate Eldredge Jul 30 '14 at 14:14
Number 1 is an issue for countries like Israel as well, but Wikipedia tells me they're on the roadmap... – Aditya Somani Jul 30 '14 at 14:37
@NateEldredge Not really. Examples of one-way visa relations (X-can-go-to->Y): US->Mexico, Sweden->Qatar, US->Egypt, Finland->India, Mexico->Jordan, Spain->Turkey, Russia->Morocco, Canada->Mongolia, Canada-Argentina, Japan->India, India->Bolivia, India-Ecuador. – Adnan Jul 30 '14 at 18:11
That's certainly true but just changes the question a little instead of actually addressing it: Why does the US set these limits? Why are the visa refusal so numerous? In both cases, I believe concerns about illegal immigration are the root cause. – Relaxed Jul 30 '14 at 22:59
@Relaxed concerns about immigration definitely are the issue. The indian AVRR means that something like 50000+ Indian citizens per year were looked at by immigration officials who said that they won't get a visa; and look at the statistics for reasons why USA denies visas - 70% of the denials are because the officials weren't completely sure the visitor won't try to immigrate, 28% are (presumably fixable) problems with paperwork, and the other reasons are insignificantly tiny. – Peteris Jul 31 '14 at 20:17

Being an Indian myself I can understand the frustration of having to apply for a visa for almost every country that you travel to. This Wikipedia article gives a fairly up-to-date information about the visa requirements for Indian citizens. As you can see, most countries that do not require an Indian passport holder to get a visa are in Asia and Africa. I think there are three reasons for your question

  1. As @pnuts pointed out in his comment, all Indian national identity documents (PAN card, driving license, and even passport) are unreliable and do not meet the security requirements for identity documents imposed in developed countries like in EU and USA. You may be aware of how easily passports were being faked in India few years back. That is changing however.

  2. India's own border control is not strictly enforced, which makes it easy for an illegal immigrant from neighboring countries to come to India, obtain a fake identity and then travel to some other country on a faked document. If caught, where would that person be deported to and who will take the responsibility? Definitely not the country the person traveled to.

  3. Reciprocity. Internal politics are preventing India from reaching out. Countries that want to provide visa free travel to Indian nationals expect the same from the Indian government and opposition politics prevents it from taking the first step. I am hopeful that this may change in the current term.

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I think this completely misses the point. I am willing to take a bet that if the India introduces better ID documents (not sure how this really explains anythings) and offers reciprocity, it still wouldn't get visa-free access, say, to the EU anytime soon. – Relaxed Jul 31 '14 at 0:15
@Relaxed Pure speculation. (The question isn't "why would process A be in place even if process B were put into place") – Alex Jul 31 '14 at 14:57
@Poldie It's somewhat speculative either way but my point is that process A has been in place for this reason all along. You need to assume it's not (which is no less speculative) to even think that whether process B is in place or not is relevant. My remark was just meant to make this easier to see. – Relaxed Jul 31 '14 at 15:02
@Poldie Speculation or not, visas are also in place due to illegal immigration, if the risk of a citizen of another country coming to visit and staying illegally were sufficiently low, visa waivers could be considered. For most developing countries the risk is generally considered to be rather high. – TC1 Aug 2 '14 at 16:20
Indian government has introduced e-Tourist visa / (Visa on arrival) program for countries included in link. – Nilesh Thakkar Jul 16 at 9:05

It's a combination of a lot of things, but the 2 most important are:

1: Lack of reciprocal agreements

India has had visa barriers against foriegn visitors for a long time, stemming from a time when it didn't particularly want tourists. The national government was highly ioslationist/protectionist and only started taking down trade barriers in the 1990s for the most part.

If India makes overtures to other countries this will change but India has to make the first step.

2: Visa abuse/illegal migration by citizens.

Countries whose nationals have a history of illegal(undocumented) migration, or where access has been abused (Working illegally whilst on a tourist visa (or whilst visa free), overstaying, disappearing off the radar and never returning home, etc) are unlikely to be offered visa-free access until they have shown a committment to policing the problem, contributing to repatriation costs and start reducing the offending rates.

As an example of the reasons behind such things: New Zealand removed visa-free access to Thai nationals around 2003 because about 5% of "tourists" turned out to be sex workers - and being illegal, they were susceptable to manipulation by criminal gangs (Prostitution is legal in NZ, but illegal workers can trivially be ripped off on pay or held in disgusting conditions, etc, etc.) - after a substantial number of cases where Thai women were repatriated at NZ taxpayer expense or offered refugee status because they were unable to return home, visa barriers were erected to try and detect sex workers before they arrived and got pulled into criminal enterprises.

I've lived a number of countries where there are significant visa barriers to living/working elsewhere and the depressing thing is that the general attitude to compatriots working illegally in other countries is "good on them!" when the real attitude should be the opposite - it's those illegal people who are the cause of visa barriers - and if they keep doing it, the reason for various countries to enact further barriers for entry.

One might argue that making it harder to get a visa makes it more likely that people will enter any given country illegally, but that's not the way bureaucratic mindsets work. This is definitely one area where attempting to go around the rules has consequences for every member of the group.

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The US will - as a last resort - loan airfare money to a stranded American. If you are the mayor of a foreign city and you see that one of your social burdens (beggars, criminals, etc) is an American citizen, you can call the nearest US consulate and there is a good chance they will relieve you. In contrast, I think you are stuck with the Indian social burden. – emory Aug 1 '14 at 1:39

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