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Plan to offer longer, cheaper UK visa for Indians

As Indians increasingly travel abroad for business and pleasure, an influential Commonwealth body asked Britain on Tuesday to give Indian tourists longer and cheaper visas that are currently offered by the David Cameron government to encourage visits from China

world Updated: Jul 05, 2016 16:55 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
At present Indian nationals pay £87 for a 6-month visa, £330 for a two-year visa, and £752 for ten years.
At present Indian nationals pay £87 for a 6-month visa, £330 for a two-year visa, and £752 for ten years.(Agency)

As Indians increasingly travel abroad for business and pleasure, an influential Commonwealth body asked Britain on Tuesday to give Indian tourists longer and cheaper visas that are currently offered by the David Cameron government to encourage visits from China .

Under a two-year pilot underway in China, a UK visa valid for two years is offered for £87. For the same fee, Indians get a visa for a maximum of six months. A two-year visa for Indians costs £330 pounds.

Presenting a report in the House of Commons, the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) said Britain (with 400,000 Indian visitors) has been losing market share of India’s outbound travellers, particularly to France (with 500,000 Indian visitors) which overtook it in 2015.

After India made it “significantly easier” for Britons to obtain a visa through its e-visa system, the RCS said extending the China pilot programme to India will provide “an ideal opportunity to reply in kind by extending a more favourable two-year visitor visa to Indian visitors”.

Titled “A Passage From India”, the report supported by several airlines, tour operators and CII, said: “The lead up to next year presents a unique opportunity to extend the proposed visa reform as 2017 has been declared the UK-India Year of Culture.

“Our recommendation is for Indian nationals to join a pilot scheme granting visitors a two-year multiple visit visa into the UK for £87. The same pilot was offered to Chinese nationals in January 2016 and described as bringing significant benefits to the UK economy. 

“At present Indian nationals pay £87 for a 6-month visa, £330 for a two-year visa, and £752 for ten years. The UK’s policy to seek stronger ties with China is sensible, but it is nonetheless prudent to seek out other fast-developing nations to provide balance, such as India, where the UK already has strong cultural links”, the report said.

Tim Hewish, the report’s author, told Hindustan Times that the fall in the pound’s value post-Brexit is likely to increase tourists from India.

 He said: “There might well be a new Home Secretary who would need to make a decision on extending the visitor visa to Indian nationals. Discussions with the home office, the treasury, and the tourism minister are paramount next steps to ensure support in time for the star of 2017.”

Britain, the report said, needs to send a clear and unambiguous signal to India and its citizens to say that Britain is open for visiting, preferably several times within a two-year period. Indian visitors - including those visiting friends and family - spent over £400 million during 2015.

“This does not require new policy architecture to be put in place, but an extension of the same pilot currently running with China…By not reacting swiftly, the UK is further risking its market share of the growing global number of Indian visitors,” it said. 

"The UK’s share has contracted by half, while its main competitors are growing or remaining stable. This shows that the UK cannot take Indian visitors for granted and must work much harder to attract them, as it has done in relation to Chinese visitors,”, the report said.