After a year and a half, India suspended tourist visas in view of COVID-19 Pandemic, the Center on Thursday announced that it would start issuing visas from October 15, though tourists would be allowed to enter India on chartered flights only for a month.
Those who want to come to India on “bubble flights” or scheduled commercial flights will have to wait till November 15, the government said.
“After considering various inputs, MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has decided to start granting fresh tourist visas for foreigners coming to India through chartered flights from October 15, 2021,” the MHA said in a statement.
It said that foreign tourists entering India by flights other than chartered aircraft will be able to do so only on new tourist visas from November 15.
“All appropriate protocols and norms relating to COVID-19 as notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from time to time shall be followed by foreign tourists, carriers bringing them to India and all other stakeholders at landing stations.” Ministry said.
“The pressure of Covid has eased 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 a sudden influx of tourists,” said an MHA official. “So initially chartered flights are being allowed. Tourists can hire chartered flights to come to India on their own or through a travel company. Regular tourist operations will only start on November 15th, but on bubble flights earlier.
“As soon as the operations increase, commercial flights will be opened,” the official said.
The decision, it is learned, was under consideration for over a month and the tourism ministry was pushing for opening of tourist visas, as the tourism and hotel sector suffered the most during the pandemic. The high number of vaccinations over the past few months, and far fewer infections being reported from large parts of the country, also helped in this decision.
As of 6 October, 22,431 new cases of corona virus infection were reported in the country.
Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh told reporters on the sidelines of the Buddhist Circuit Summit in Varanasi, “We are planning to reopen tourist visas for different countries in a phased manner. But it all depends on how things go in the first month.”
“Since chartered flights can be observed and closely monitored, we are starting with that. After a month, we can open for commercial international flights. But it will all depend on how things go after people arrive,” he said.
Officials said that depending on the COVID-19 situation, the tourism ministry is expected to fully reopen by January next year. The first 5 lakh tourists to come will be given e-tourist visa free of cost.