Although the travel restrictions that India had implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic have almost all been lifted, there are still some countries that have specific visa rules, such as the United Kingdom. This has a profound impact on the Indian tourism sector.
New measures for UK travellers
As of November 2021, it is possible again to travel to India with an electronic visa. However, some countries still have travel restrictions in place that were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Kingdom is the biggest example thereof. Travellers from the UK represent over 50% of European tourists travelling to India, and yet they still cannot apply for an India e-visa. Furthermore, as of 7 October, they need to present themselves in person at a visa centre to apply for a physical visa. There is a limited number of visa centres in the United Kingdom, which causes many people having to travel for hours and in some cases even have to spend the night at a hotel. The new measure is a result of statements issued by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Suella Braverman, who is concerned about possible fraud in visa applications submitted through an intermediary.
These measures cause additional delays with visa applications for India in the United Kingdom, forcing many travellers to cancel their trip to India. British tourism agencies are overwhelmed and in many cases it is not possible for customers to get a refund. Out of necessity, tourism agencies have to refuse new bookings, because they cannot guarantee that customers will get their visa on time. In the United Kingdom, the Association of Tour Operators, a group of over 120 tour operators, estimates that over 1500 bookings have been affected by the delays in India, accounting for about 10 million dollars. Travellers from the United States are also experiencing delays with the granting of visa applications for India. India’s tourism sector fears that this may lead to over 6 million people to choose not to travel to India next year, resulting in potentially 12 billion dollars in losses for the sector.
Visa centre capacity scaled up
Despite the efforts of different parties in both countries to solve the problems surrounding the visa applications, the situation has not changed. The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), has urged the Indian government many times to make the India e-visa available again for all countries. However, so far the government does not seem to comply with these demands. The Indian High Commissioner in London, Vikram Doraiswami, announced on 12 October that he wanted to double the capacity of Indian visas issued through their provider VFS Global from 20,000 to 40,000 visas per month. To this end, a new centre will open in Glasgow this week, and by the end of the month another centre is expected to open in London with new opening hours, which will also be open on Saturdays.
There have been negotiations between the Indian and British governments regarding this topic. The United Kingdom hopes to quickly be included in the Indian Mobility and Migration Agreement, which would speed up the visa application process for British citizens. The negotiations are planned on 24 October, and there is hope that India will make the e-visa available again for all countries in the foreseeable future.