More than 50 leaders from business and politics on Wednesday called on the British government to extend to Indian nationals the new £87 two-year visitor visa pilot programme currently underway in China.
The call was made in a letter by the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) in The Daily Telegraph. It was signed by Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry; entrepreneur Karan Bilimoria and senior Labour MP Virendra Sharma MP, among others.
The letter follows a RCS report in July in partnership with leading aviation, tourism and industry groups that outlined the case for visa reform.
The pilot visa scheme lasting two years was offered to China in January. However, Indian visitors pay £330 for a two-year visa, or £87 for six months.
The report’s author, Tim Hewish, director of RCS Policy and Research, said: “This letter demonstrates the broad support for reform of the UK-India visitor visa scheme across tourism, aviation, business and politics. We urge the UK government to listen to these individuals as leaders in their field and proactively discuss this proposal with the Indian government without delay.”
The reform is expected to help reverse the UK’s falling market share of global Indian tourists, which has halved over the past decade. The estimated cost to the UK economy is almost £500 million a year and more than 8,000 jobs.
France has now leapfrogged the UK as India’s most visited European nation, attracting 500,000 visitors from the subcontinent in 2015, the RCS analysis said.
The visa reform was also sought in view of 2017 being designated the UK-India Year of Culture, marking 70 years of Indian Independence. It is expected there will be much interaction between the two countries in areas such as business, art, music and design.