Several NGOs in India are now appointing foreigners as full-time or part-time employees, consultants, interns or as volunteers. However, we find to our dismay that persons who work or volunteer at these NGOs often come to India on improper visas. In most cases foreigners who come to volunteer in India come on ‘tourist visa’. This is disallowed and historically volunteers who come to India on tourist visas have been deported on arrival.
Let’s look at some of the options:
Employee/Consultant: A foreigner cannot work in India without having requisite employment Visa (E-Visa) permitting him/her to work in India and his/her total annual remuneration must not be less than US $ 25,000.
Volunteer: The person concerned must obtain E-Visa even if he/she desires to come to India to serve as a volunteer (without salary) with an NGO registered in India. Such a Visa is granted by the Indian Mission or Post abroad with special endorsement on his/her E-Visa “To Work with NGO — (Name of the NGO and place of work)” subject to usual checks and formalities.
At its absolute discretion, the NGO may provide the volunteer with board and lodge or provide per diem or honorarium. However, since the person is a volunteer and in India on a volunteer visa, the NGO is not bound under law to pay any remuneration to such a volunteer.
Validity of E-Visa: The foreigner may be granted a multi-entry E-Visa for 1 year initially.
Registration & other formalities: All registration formalities as per rules, after his/her arrival in India, should be strictly complied with and the registration must be done with the FRRO/FRO within 14 days from the date of his/ her arrival in India.
The visa may be extended by the FRRO/FRO beyond the initial visa validity period up to a total period of 5 years from the date of issue of the initial E-Visa, on a year to year basis, subject to good conduct, production of necessary documents in support of continued employment and no adverse security inputs about the foreigner.
Change of employer (NGO) by the foreigner during the currency of the E-Visa is not permissible.
Intern: An intern is essentially a trainee or apprentice who is appointed in order to gain experience or training. Such an individual is usually paid a ‘stipend’ as per the Apprentice Act. However, an NGO may appoint an intern without paying a stipend.
Before 1st April 2017, it was mandatory for foreigners to obtain an ‘Employment’ visa or a ‘Business’ visa (depending on case-by-case reviews) for pursuing internships in India. However, foreigners who meet certain criteria can now acquire an ‘internship’ visa.
Intern visa is a relatively new addition to the group of Indian visas, introduced for foreigners intending to pursue internships in Indian with companies, educational institutions, and NGOs.
Validity: The period of the Intern visa would be restricted to the duration of the internship program or one year, whichever is less.
Who would qualify? Intern visa may be granted to a student after he/she completes graduation/post-graduation. The gap between the completion of graduation/post-graduation and the commencement of the internship should not exceed one year.
Visa conversion: Conversion/extension of the Intern visa into Employment visa or any other type of visa is not permitted.
Other requirements: If the internship duration is more than 180 days, the intern is required to register with the concerned Foreigner’s Registration Office (FRO) within 14 days of arrival.
Earnings (if any) of the foreign national from the internship would be subject to the Indian Income Tax Act.
The intern can have single/double/multiple entries in India during the stated internship period.
If the internship is in a company, the intern should draw a minimum remuneration of INR 7,80,000 per annum to be eligible for this visa. At an NGO it could be a token ‘stipend’ or no stipend, provided the intern’s Board and lodge is taken care of.
All NGOs and foreigners desirous to work with an NGO in India, even if on voluntary basis without any remuneration, should ensure compliance of the regulations.
NGOs should ensure that all employees, consultants, interns or volunteers are provided with clear appointment letters stating roles, responsibilities and the terms and conditions of the appointment. The employee, consultant, intern or volunteer in turn should sign the appointment letter in acceptance.
NGOs should also minimise risk by insuring all employees, consultants, interns or volunteers or require them to come to India with comprehensive travel insurance covering life, health, accident, theft, etc.
PIO/OCI: PIO (Person of Indian Origin) or OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card holders do not need to get a separate employment, intern or volunteer visa and are not required to register with FRRO for seeking employment. They may take up employment in all areas except mountaineering, missionary and research work and other work requiring Protected Area Permit (PAP) and Restricted Area Permit (RAP).