Minister says government is aware of problems being experienced by British nationals
Credit: Harikrishnan Mangayil/Pixabay
The new prime minister Liz Truss used her last visit to India to raise the concerns of British citizens impacted by the Indian government’s decision to remove the UK from its e-Visa programme.
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, India suspended the use of its e-Visa – a document that can be applied for and issued online, allowing the holder to visit India for up 180 days, without having to obtain a full, formal visa.
For citizens of 156 countries around the world, the programme was restored in October 2021. However, 15 nations – including the UK, Canada, and China – remained shut out of the travel-authorisation scheme, despite having previously been included. The decision to exclude them has been widely attributed to the comparatively strict restrictions imposed on Indian nationals by the countries in question during the pandemic.
Data from the 2011 census – the most recent information available – showed that there were 1.4 million of Indian ethnicity who lived in the UK. The south Asian nation is a popular travel destination for UK residents, with 1.6 million visits made in 2019 – the mean length of which was about three weeks, significantly longer than for many European nations, where people tended to stay around a week, on average.
Those that currently need or wish to visit India can use non-digital routes to apply for a hard-copy visa. But this is a process that is significantly longer and more complex than the online system for getting an e-Visa – which also costs less to obtain than the paper equivalent.
Earlier this month, then-immigration minister Kevin Foster said that the government was aware of problems being experienced by Brits wishing to visit India. Ministers have regularly brought up the issue with Indian counterparts – including in discussions undertaken in March by the new prime minister, in the context of her previous role as foreign secretary.
“We are aware of British nationals’ concerns regarding their exclusion from the Government of India’s (GoI) list of countries eligible for e-visas,” said Foster, who was last week moved by Truss to a junior ministerial post at the Department for Transport. “We regularly raise our concerns with the GoI. Most recently, the foreign secretary raised this matter with her Indian counterpart during her last visit to India.”
He added: “British nationals can continue to use the GoI’s regular/paper visa application services for all visa categories. We will continue to work closely with the GoI on the e-visa issue and update the India Travel Advice with the latest information on any changes to India’s visa rules.”
Foster, who was answering a written parliamentary question from Labour MP for Stockport Navendru Mishra, said that the UK will continue to press forward with its own efforts to implement e-Visas and other digital immigration documents. This work, the ultimate aim of which is to deliver a paperless immigration system, will provide Indian nationals with online tools through which they can enter the UK.
“We are developing a border and immigration system which is ‘digital-by-default’, which over time means we will increasingly replace physical and paper-based products and services with accessible, easy to use online and digital services,” he added. “We have been rolling out eVisas since 2018, first with the EU Settlement Scheme and increasingly on other immigration routes, so the number of eVisa holders is continuing to rise. We are making eVisas available primarily by route rather than on the basis of nationality, but increasing numbers of applicants, including Indian nationals, will benefit from the issue of eVisas rather than physical products.”