No Glad seasons in Goa

No glad seasons in Goa
Mid-day Date: 2011-05-31 Place: Mumbai

Pensioners and overseas visitors who want to make Goa their home are
being stifled by strict visa regulations curtailing long stays. This
May could be the last month in for several of these foreigners

Dave (64) and Penny (58) Sanders (name changed) are a typical English
couple who came to Goa one winter on a two-week charter holiday four
years ago. Charmed by the region, they booked a further two-week stay
and the very next year decided they would like to spend six months of
the year in Goa, and six months in Spain where they run a small
business. The Sanders purchased a leasehold apartment in Siolim, north
Goa and settled into their six-months-a-year life in Goa. Life is good
when they come down. Internet connectivity helps them monitor their
business in Spain while they are here. The exchange rate makes it
extremely easy on the pocket. With their friendly disposition, the
Sanders’ rapidly made friends, they quickly plugged into the vibrant
Goan social circuit, and their Goan friends invited them over to
premiers, concerts and family occasions. Dave’s skill with the guitar
led to him playing gigs with local musicians at the many live music
venues around the touristy coastal area.

Relax: Tourists at Calangute Beach in Goa pic/AFP

The Sanders took the usual precautions, avoiding the pitfalls of
buying any ownership property in Goa that had earlier got many
purchases who did so while on tourist visas, into deep trouble with
the Enforcement Directorate. “We were quite happy to buy a leasehold
apartment,” they say. “But just when you get used to one rule, they
throw another at you,” Dave complains. He is referring to the new visa
restrictions that the Government of India notified in 2008, but whose
effects are slowly beginning to blow away the carefully laid plans of
the Sanders and hundreds of other mainly British retirees who live in
Goa to avoid the harsh European winter. The new rules have all but
stopped the five-year multiple entry visa for India. Now only
three-month tourist visas are being issued, with visitors expected to
stay out of India for a two-month cooling period before re-entering or
applying for a fresh visa. “We would have liked to settle down here,
but with the two-month cooling off rule, we have to reconsider our
plans,” says Dave. They are now considering a move to Sri Lanka, where
pensioners are allowed to stay on if they can prove a known source of

Bottoms up to Goa: But is the magic fading? British nationals at a
restaurant pics/Arvind Tengse

Unknown to the Sanders, internal circulars of the Union Home ministry
and external affairs ministry aim to discourage the practice of
part-time residentship in India. Resultantly, consulates have been
weeding out five-year multiple entry visas and even six-month tourist
visas in favour of the three-month tourist visa. The unofficial policy
change and visa rules have similarly dashed the hopes of Marjorie and
Sondra Myles (names changed) who planned on running a small guesthouse
business in Goa. While the ambiguities and irregular application of
laws have meant that several British run tourism businesses do
flourish in Goa, the Myles count themselves among the unlucky lot who
have run into a series of brick walls in this pursuit, quite possibly
from no fault in their paperwork. They were understandably upset while
relating their story.

Home: Britons enjoy Goa’s good life but things are becoming tougher

Visiting India and Goa over 15 years before the former university
employee decided that Goa might be a good option for a retirement
base, Marjorie (76) sunk her savings into purchasing freehold
apartments in a complex in South Goa. She planned on converting the
six-bedroom double apartment into a guesthouse, she would run with her
daughter Sondra (50) and 19-year-old granddaughter. The Myles have
been particularly unlucky, hit by a triple whammy. They purchased
their properties in 2004 in the initial euphoric years after the new
FEMA legislation led people to believe the law on immovable property
purchase had opened up, — only to see a complete rollback when the
Enforcement Directorate began investigating 400 foreigner-made
purchases in Goa alone. The Myles now find themselves in a quandary.
“Our dream has become a nightmare,” Marjorie said. “We’ve not been
able to process any permissions to start the business and we are now
staying in a house we apparently do not own, despite consulting a
conveyancing advocate at the time.”

To add to their woes, their visa durations have shrunk over the years,
making living here untenable. Their applications for a business visa
was rejected, authorities granted them an X visa initially; these were
further reduced to a one year visa and more recently to six month
visas. “It has come as rather a shock to us. The new visa rule has
crippled us financially,” says Sondra. It would be impossible to go
back to the UK every six months, stay two months in a hotel in the UK
and return to Goa, she points out.

Erstwhile Goan fishermen, toddy tappers and farmers who have been
evicted from beach and farm land to make way for hotels, are
increasingly asking government to protect their new livelihoods in the
small guesthouse and restaurant trade they opted for, even as newer
entrepreneurs from outside the state and abroad ramp up the
competition. All this has rendered the bustling tourism arena into a
seething cauldron of social tension and conflict, despite the overt
bonhomie on show for the visitor. The Myles have had their brush with
intimidation, while aggrieved western long staying tourists often vent
their frustrations at being turfed out, in the letters column of local
dailies. Sources in the bureaucracy say it is for precisely this
reason that the home ministry is hoping to curtail potential cultural
and diplomatic tensions by restricting the numbers of western
“residents” who have homed in on Goa as a preferable region to spend
their retirement years, some setting up small businesses to supplement
their pensions.

By the time the Indian bureaucracy woke up to this trend and began
taking dissuasive measures, it was already too late for many western
retirees who had invested life savings into homes in Goa. Among the
badly hit are an elderly British couple who constructed a bungalow in
the beach village of Bogmalo. They now have to fly back to the UK
every 180 days, and since they have no home there, spend two months in
the UK in a caravan in their daughter’s driveway. They are currently
holding out, hoping to make a reasonably priced sale on their Goa
home, instead of taking the route of the hundreds of “distress sales”
that were made by foreigners when the clampdown began. Visa rules have
not just hit wintering Europeans, who have had to rethink their
long-term plans in Goa. It has impacted short-term holidayers to Goa
and alongside it, the entire tourist industry.

“At least 30 to 40 per cent of vacationers from Britain take repeat
holidays in a single season, coming back twice and sometimes thrice on
a six-month visa. Many visit neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia or
elsewhere and return. Reduced visa terms and the cooling off period
has meant that many have cancelled holidays and are down to a single
vacation to Goa in a year,” says Guitry Velho who runs the Heritage
Village Club. His business has taken a hit, as the hotel mainly caters
to the UK segment. “Clients of mine who’d come in pre-Christmas, then
go back to celebrate the holiday season with family in the UK and
return in February — are now just coming in February for a single

Smaller establishments downstream that survive from tourism are
similarly affected. “It has been a bad season. A lot of tourists who
had returned in January and February after the Christmas rush have
simply not done so, and we’ve lost this business,” says Roy Barreto,
who runs Betty’s Place restaurant and a cruise operation on the River
Sal in South Goa. Western European visitors to his eateries are down
to a trickle, while his overheads on staff have remained the same.
Goa’s tourism trade body the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa
(TTAG) is naturally sore over the visa rules. “Working over 40 years,
hundreds of thousands of Goans at all levels of the tourism industry
have built a unique record of 40 per cent repeat clientele from
western European markets, especially the UK. Until the recent visa
revisions, they returned year after year, because of Goa’s branding as
a long haul winter destination. They are now leaving Goa
permanently,”rues TTAG spokesman hotelier, Ralph de Souza.

“Since the new visa regime, long stayers and return holidayers from
Nordic, Scandinavian and the UK region has fallen by 30 per cent,” de
Souza says. The TTAG estimates the loss to be in the region of Rs 900
crore. Long-term visitors are estimated to spend in a year Rs 10 lakh
each across a range of services from tourist taxis, two-wheeler
pilots, beach shacks, cafes, restaurants and super markets. It’s a big
economic hit, and the TTAG is currently lobbying with the state and
central governments to consider alternatives, such as granting visa on
arrival at the Goa airport, building data bases on regular visitors
and granting exemptions to traditional long stayers. While discussions
are on, there has been no change yet, and this May might well be their
last month in Goa for many visitors.


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