India announces plans to end visa mess for UK visitors

Skyline of Bombay India – Getty

After months of chaos and confusion, India has finally announced plans to reinstate e-Visas for UK travellers.

In a strange post-pandemic quirk, UK travelers currently – after years of being able to take advantage of online applications – have to obtain an India visa in person, and the huge demand coupled with the lack of space for the talks led to dozens of vacations.

Thankfully, the Indian authorities have finally rethought the policy and confirmed plans to streamline travel to the country. In a video statement posted on Twitter, Vikram Doraiswami, the High Commissioner for the UK, said: “We are re-implementing e-Visas and this service will be made available immediately. Dates will be announced shortly. This should allow friends from UK to reach India much easier.

“We are looking forward to a good winter season where everyone can celebrate their festivals in India which is the land of festivals.”

Below, we look at the key details you need to know about traveling to India in the coming months.

When will the e-Visa be reinstated?

As noted above, an exact date has yet to be announced, but the statement indicates that the easing of rules will occur in the near future.

Given that travelers from the vast majority of other countries can enter India using an e-Visa, the switch shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. Also, given that the facility was previously available to UK travellers, returning should, in theory, be straightforward.

The caption accompanying Doraiswami’s video statement also hints that the system will be back up and running shortly: “The @HCI_London team are delighted to confirm that the e-Visa facility will once again be available for UK nationals traveling to India. The system update is underway and the visa website will soon be ready to receive questions from friends in the UK.”

What are the current visa rules and why are they so complicated?

The UK was on the list of countries eligible to apply for an e-Visa until August 2021, when it, along with Canada, was removed. The reasons why this happened aren’t entirely clear, but it may have had something to do with Britain placing India on its travel red list in April 2021 over fears about the emerging Delta variant.

India fully reintroduced the e-Visa system in March 2022 and for a while appears to have turned a blind eye to applications from UK tour operators, if not British individuals.

However, this fall, stricter enforcement of the rules took travel companies by surprise and left holidaymakers without the correct documents to visit the country.

It has been suggested that stricter enforcement of the regulations could have been part of a tit-for-tat game as the process of traveling to the UK from India is not particularly straightforward.

In an official notice in October, the Indian High Commission in the UK explained that the applications and face-to-face interviews were required due to “rogue agents and individuals illegally charging fees and collecting India visa applications for submission at VFS centers, misleading applicants and misrepresenting the services they can legally provide.”

It is not clear why he has now rethought this policy.

How can I safeguard my holiday in India?

If you’ve booked a holiday to India in the coming months, it’s vital you don’t delay in trying to get a visa appointment in person. If you booked your holiday through a tour operator, contact them for advice.

In terms of turnaround times for applications, travel industry insiders suggest these have tightened in recent weeks, but this varies across the country. There are currently nine visa processing centers in the UK, and those unable to travel can appoint someone to attend on their behalf, if they get an official clearance letter, which itself presumably takes some time.

Once your e-Visa is reinstated, you will no longer need to book an appointment in person. Those traveling from e-Visa eligible countries can apply through a online portal, where they are required to upload a photo ID, personal data and pay a fee, which typically ranges from $10 to $80, depending on location. Visa processing typically takes no more than 72 hours.

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