India: post-pandemic and beyond

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Poorvi Chothani
LawQuest, Mumbai

Ashwina Pinto
LawQuest, Mumbai

The Government of India issued a travel advisory on 23 March 2020 stating that no international commercial passenger aircraft would be allowed to land and disembark its passengers in India. Generally, scheduled international commercial passenger services continue to remain suspended. However, international scheduled flights are being permitted on select routes on a case-by-case basis. India has established ‘air transport bubble’ arrangements with certain countries (such as Canada, France and the US, among others) by which the air carriers of these countries can operate a certain number of international flights. This arrangement is reciprocal in nature, meaning airlines from both countries enjoy similar benefits. Under this arrangement only eligible travellers are permitted to travel between the two countries on the limited flights.

While the country was in total lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, the Indian government suspended all Indian visa services. While the normal processing of Indian visa services remains temporarily suspended until further notice, the Indian consulates are considering new employment or business visa applications on a case-by-case basis. The consulates are likely to issue visas for a short validity and permitting only a single entry into the country. In a bid to ease the movement of international passengers, the Indian government has now restored existing visas with immediate effect except electronic visas (e-visas), tourist visas and medical visas.

In the height of the lockdown, in May 2020, Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders outside India were unable to travel to India. With the introduction of the evacuation flights and the air bubble arrangements, India then started to permit the following categories of OCI cardholders into India:

  • minor children who hold OCI cards and whose parents are Indian citizens;
  • OCI cardholders who wish to travel to India on account of family emergencies such as a death in the family;
  • married couples where one spouse is an OCI cardholder and the other is an Indian national; and
  • students who were OCI cardholders and whose parents are Indian citizens living in India.

However, now India is permitting the entry of all OCI cardholders.

The Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs) and the Foreigners Registration Offices are temporarily empowered to extend consular processed visas, e-visas or stipulations of stay endorsed on the visas on a gratis basis for the foreign nationals who are currently unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions. Such individuals can submit an online application on the e-FRRO portal to extend the visa. Further, those whose visas have expired and who apply for permission to exit the country will be granted an Exit Permit without being levied a penalty for any overstay.

Most of the immigration-related changes that the Indian government implemented are temporary in nature to curb the spread of Covid-19 and to help foreign nationals who are currently unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions.

Hopefully, with the administration of vaccinations, the Indian government will ease travel restrictions and quarantine measures for those individuals who have been successfully vaccinated.

According to the latest guidelines issued by the Indian government, all international travellers must submit a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test report on arrival to India:

  • this test should have been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey; and  
  • the test report along with a self-declaration form should also be uploaded to the online portal.

Travel history of passengers from Europe, the Middle East and the UK will be taken for the last 14 days. Such passengers will be required to undergo a self-paid confirmatory molecular test upon arrival.

All travellers from Brazil, South Africa and the UK (who have tested negative) must undergo home quarantine for a period of seven days. Such passengers will be tested after a period of seven days once again and if found negative, will be released from quarantine but must continue to monitor their health for a further period of seven days.

The individual states in India are permitted to develop their own protocols regarding quarantine and isolation as per their assessment of passengers once they arrive in India. Thus, it is critical that every passenger verifies the specific requirements with the air carriers and state agencies prior to departure.

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