UAE citizens and other nationalities requiring visas to visit India can avail themselves of gratis permission to travel to India as part of a COVID-19 recovery stimulus announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The free visa scheme will remain in force until 31 March 2022. Sitharaman urged foreign tourists to take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible once India resumes issuance of tourist visas. At present, India is not issuing visas in view of the risk of spreading COVID-19 from any influx of tourists.
The announcement of free visas suggests that this is set to change. Visa fee has been waived on the first 500,000 visas to be issued once the process resumes. If the limit of half a million visas is reached before 31st March 2022, payment will have to be made by applicants thereafter. Hence the suggestion to prospective tourists to take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible.
Sitharaman said the government will forgo one billion Indian rupees in visa fees because of this scheme and other incentives to the tourism sector, which are part of a financial stimulus announced today to kickstart recovery of economic activity, hit by the pandemic.
To ensure that visitors from abroad will have a smooth travel experience, Sitharaman announced financial support to registered tourist guides to keep them in business and be of assistance to tourists. India has about 11,000 tourist guides who are registered with the Ministry of Tourism and with state governments to ensure their authenticity and reliability.
With tourism falling into coma since the lockdown early last year, many of these guides have sought alternative livelihood in other professions. The incentive of fully guaranteed loans up to 100,000 rupees announced today is aimed at bringing back those guides with valuable experience to their original profession.
Loans of up to one million rupees with 100 per cent guarantee will be provided to travel and tourism stakeholders recognized by Ministry of Tourism to promote the holiday sector, Sitharaman announced. This money is to be used as working capital for tourist enterprises as they struggle to get back into business.