Passengers queue outside the departure terminal at Chennai airport. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: India has eased visa restrictions for travel to select countries and is likely to add the UAE to that list, depending upon the terms and conditions of an ‘Air Bubble’ agreement being finalised, Gulf News has learnt.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has eased visa and travel restrictions to and from countries with which the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has entered into an Air Bubble i.e., bilateral air travel arrangement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The MHA has now permitted entry to India for OCI (Overseas Indian Citizen) cardholders who belong to countries with which Air Bubble arrangements have been finalised by the MoCA such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and France.

“Foreigners from these countries have also been allowed to avail Indian visa facility for business, medical and employment purposes. Indian citizens have also been allowed to travel to such countries on any type of visa,” the spokesperson of MHA posted on Twitter.

Later on Saturday evening, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor, also tweeted a statement on the recommendation by the missions: "I understand that a decision to this effect has now indeed been taken by MHA in India. This will come into effect only after the formal notification from @MoCA_GoI in the next couple of days. Please book your tickets to UAE only after that. @cgidubai," he said in the tweet addressed to Indians with valid visas intending to fly to the UAE.

Added clause

In an office memorandum related to this, a copy of which has been received by Gulf News, the MHA has added that the relaxation of visa and travel restrictions will be applicable to countries “that may be included” under such Air Bubble scheme in the future”.

“Any Indian national holding any type of valid visa of such countries may be permitted to travel to the country concerned, provided there is no travel restriction for entry of Indian nationals in that country,” the statement said.

“It would be for the airlines concerned to ensure that there is no travel restriction for Indian nationals to enter the country concerned with the particular visa category before issue of tickets/boarding passes to Indian passenger,” it added.

India-UAE Air Bubble likely soon

India and the UAE are currently working on formulating an Air Bubble scheme that will supersede the special travel corridor set up to operate flights between both the countries till August 31.

Dr Aman Puri, the Consul General of India in Dubai, said the Air Bubble is “likely to be operationalised soon”.

Whether Indians holding visit/tourist visas and new entry permits would be allowed to fly to the UAE would depend on the terms and conditions that will be finalised under the Air Bubble agreement between the two countries, he told Gulf News on Saturday.

“The Indian Embassy and the Consulate both have strongly recommended to the Ministry of External Affairs that the stranded Indians who need to travel for family reunion maybe permitted [to travel to the UAE] even though they may be having visit visa. We are expecting a resolution on the issue very soon,” said Dr Puri.

What airlines say

Since the Air Bubble agreement is yet to be finalised, airlines said they are currently allowed to fly only UAE residents with visas stamped on their passports and permits to return.

In reply to a passenger’s tweet related to the MHA’s post on easing of the visa restrictions, Air India Express posted: “Dear Sir, along with UAE nationals, UAE government has permitted entry for Indians into UAE till 31st August, for which you are required to have a stamped resident permit in the passport.”

“Dear Sir/Ma’am, As per the current directives, only resident permit holders with return permit receipt (ICA/GDRFA) are allowed. We will update you if there is any change in this regulation,” it added in another tweet.

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A passenger undergoes thermal screening at Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Image Credit: PTI

Meanwhile, Emirates airline’s social media team replied to a passenger from India on Twitter: “Hi, until 16th August, we are only operating repatriation flights to Dubai. Only passengers with valid UAE resident visa are permitted to travel on repatriation flight.”

When Gulf News asked if that means the rule can change from August 16, the team replied: “Yes, it may change depending on government approvals and travel restrictions.”

The team is urged to follow the travel updates posted on the airline’s website. “Once we announce the official resumption of our flights, it’ll be updated,” it added.

Families awaiting early resolution

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travel said, many families have been eagerly waiting for both the countries to finalise the Air Bubble agreement and allow the reunion of family members using visit/tourist visas and new entry permits.

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“Some parents have resorted to flying children to the US from India to get entry to the UAE using visit visa since they are unable to fly down directly. Some parents are presenting sworn affidavit to the Indian missions here, taking up the liability to be prosecuted when they bring over their children who are stranded in India on visit visas,” said Afi, who had urged the Indian missions to allow stranded children on tourist/visit visas to be reunited with their families.

Several families have been tweeting constantly and sending requests to the Indian missions urging them to allow their children or other family members stranded in India to fly to the UAE on tourist/visit visas. Those with new entry permits have also been seeking help to facilitate their entry.