One-and-a-half years after India suspended tourist visas in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre on Thursday announced it will begin issuing visas from October 15, although tourists will be allowed entry into India only in chartered flights for a month.
Those who want to visit India on “bubble flights” or scheduled commercial flights would have to wait until November 15, the government said.
“After considering various inputs, the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has decided to begin granting of fresh tourist visas for foreigners coming to India through chartered flights with effect from October 15, 2021,” the MHA said in a statement.
It stated that foreign tourists entering India by flights other than chartered aircraft would be able to do so only from November 15 on fresh tourist visas.
“All due protocols and norms relating to Covid-19, as notified by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare from time to time, shall be adhered to by the foreign tourists, carriers bringing them into India and all other stakeholders at landing stations,” the ministry stated.
“The Covid pressure has eased up considerably, so the government has decided to open up the economy further. However, we are taking one step at a time, as we do not want an influx of tourists suddenly,” an MHA official said. “So initially chartered flights are being allowed. Tourists can together themselves, or through a travel company, hire a chartered flight to visit India. Regular tourist operations will begin only from November 15, but first on bubble flights.”
“As operations build up, commercial flights will be opened,” the official added.
The decision, it is learnt, was under deliberation for over a month and the Tourism Ministry had been pushing for opening up of tourist visas, as the tourism and hotel sector had suffered the most during the pandemic. The high number of vaccinations achieved over the last couple of months, and significantly low number of infections being reported from large parts of the country, also helped in this decision.
As on October 6, there were 22,431 new cases of corona virus infections in the country.
Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh, told reporters on the sidelines of Buddhist Circuit Conference in Varanasi, “We are planning for a phase-wise reopening of tourist visas for various countries. But it all depends on how things pan out for the first month.”
“Since chartered flights can be observed and monitored closely, we are starting with that. After a month, we can open to commercial international flights. But it will all depend on how things go once people start coming in,” he said.
Depending on the Covid-19 situation, the tourism ministry expects for a complete reopening by January next year, officials said. For the first 5 lakh tourists coming in, e-tourist visas will be given free of cost.