Govt eases entry restrictions for overseas Indians, business visitors

Move will not have much impact on flight and hotel occupancies as curbs continue on leisure travel


PIO OCI | Travel | Coronavirus

The government has eased visa restrictions to allow Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card-holders from all countries to enter India.

The move, which comes ahead of the festive season, would enable persons of Indian origin to visit the country and meet their friends and relatives. But the decision will not have much impact on flight and hotel occupancies as restrictions continue on leisure travel.

The government clamped down on overseas air travel in March to curb the spread of Covid-19, but from subsequent months it has been gradually opening up entry for certain categories of OCI card-holders and foreign nationals. Among these are business visitors, healthcare professionals, engineers and technical specialists. The purpose and urgency of travel has been a crucial factor in the visa being issued.

Now the government has decided to ease the restrictions further to boost economic growth.

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“It has been decided to permit all OCI and PIO (persons of Indian origin) card-holders and all other foreign nationals intending to visit India for any purpose, except on a tourist visa, to enter by air or water routes through authorised airports and seaport immigration check posts,” the Union home ministry said in a statement.

“This decision will enable foreign nationals to come to India for various purposes such as business, conferences, employment, studies, research and medical purposes,” it added.

Earlier, OCI card-holders of only those countries that had entered into air bubble agreements with India were permitted.

The government has also decided to resume online visa applications, it is learnt. Online applications were suspended following the Covid-19 outbreak and those intending to travel to India had to visit an embassy or consulate for a visa application.

“A lot of unnecessary travel would have taken place if restrictions had not been imposed. Even now, overseas visitors will have to adhere to quarantine regulations after they arrive in India,” an official said.

“Travel sentiment is still not positive and people will come to India only if there is a sense of urgency,” said a senior executive of a private airline. Quarantine restrictions continue to be a dampener for travel, added another executive.

“Hotels could see a slight improvement in occupancy from the visiting friends and relatives’ category (VFR),” said Nandivardhan Jain, CEO of Noesis Capital Advisors, a Mumbai headquartered hospitality research and advisory firm. “But this will not be significant as there is general resistance to overseas travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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