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India announces free visas to boost post-pandemic tourism

June 28, 2021
The free visa scheme will remain in force until March 31 next year. Sitharaman urged foreign tourists to take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible once India resumes the issuance of tourist visas. — Courtesy file photo
The free visa scheme will remain in force until March 31 next year. Sitharaman urged foreign tourists to take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible once India resumes the issuance of tourist visas. — Courtesy file photo

NEW DELHI — Foreigners requiring a visa to visit India can avail themselves of gratis permission to travel to India as part of a COVID-19 recovery stimulus announced by the country's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday.

The free visa scheme will remain in force until March 31 next year. Sitharaman urged foreign tourists to take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible once India resumes the issuance of tourist visas.

At present, India is not issuing visas in view of the risk of spreading COVID-19 from an influx of tourists.

The announcement of free visas suggests that this is set to change. A fee has been waived on the first 500,000 visas to be issued once the process resumes. Once the limit of half a million visas is reached before March 31, 2022, those who apply for visas afterward have to make the payment. Therefore, the minister suggested prospective tourists take advantage of the scheme as quickly as possible.

Sitharaman said the government will forgo one billion Indian rupees (around SR50 million) in visa fees because of this scheme and other incentives to the tourism sector, which is 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 the tourism industry being badly hit by coronavirus-inducive lockdown measures 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 (around SR5,000)announced on Monday is aimed at bringing back those guides with valuable experience to their original profession.

Loans of up to one million rupees (around SR50,000) with a 100 percent guarantee will be provided to travel and tourism stakeholders recognized by the 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 the business.


June 28, 2021
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