London : India should be included in Britain’s cheaper two-year visitor visa scheme to attract more Indians to the UK that will strengthen the already close bilateral ties, a new report released here today said. ‘A Passage from India – Improving UK Visitor Visas for Indian Nationals’ has been prepared by the UK’s Royal Commonwealth Society in partnership with leading aviation tourism and industry groups as well as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and was released in the British Parliament complex.
“We hope that the government will consider the very clear benefits of our recommendation, enhancing the already close affinity between two great Commonwealth nations,” said Tim Hewish, director of policy and research at the Royal Commonwealth Society and author of the report. His report flags up the UK’s falling market share of global Indian tourists, which has halved over the last decade at an estimated cost to the UK economy of around 500 million pounds per year and over 8,000 jobs. France has now over-taken the UK as India’s most visited European nation, attracting 500,000 visitors from the subcontinent last year.
In October 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced a pilot scheme for a two-year UK-China visitor visa costing 87 pounds. The report recommends that Indian nationals must have the same opportunity. “To optimise exchanges of people, business and ideas, it is important that both the UK and Indian governments discuss this promising proposal openly and collaboratively consider delivering it. The strength of the UK-India relationship today must also reflect in a stronger visa regime,” said CII director-general Chandrajit Banerjee. At present Indian visitors continue to pay a hefty 330 pounds for a two-year visa, or 87 pounds for six-months.
“Extending the visa pilot to include India is not just about governments, but also about people-to-people and economic-cultural exchange. Greater interaction through visitor visits will encourage familiarity,” the report said. According to UK’s annual International Passenger Survey (IPS), the number of Indian visitors to the UK increased significantly from around 150,000 in 1995 to just over 350,000 in 2006. However, this substantial increase lost momentum with an increase of just 23,000 (367,000 to 390,000) between 2006 and 2014 and the figure in 2015 stood at 422,409. “Indian nationals are becoming wealthier and this has translated into an increase in the number of travellers, which the UK has not yet sufficiently courted,” the report claims. “Extending the visa pilot to India will send a clear signal to those potential visitors that the UK welcomes them and wants to make their travels easier,” it said. It feels next year offers the best time to introduce this change with 2017 designated the UK-India Year of Culture. When both nations aim to build on strong collaboration in business, art, music, design and other fields. Having a cheaper and extended UK visitor visa will help enhance these endeavors, the report said. “From an inward investment point of view, the two-year UK visitor visa for India would enhance ease of doing business with the UK rather than securing a visa every six months. And that’s how business in the 21st century should be – practical, productive and problem-free,” said CII president Naushad Forbes, co-chairman of Forbes Marshall. The report also points out that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will undoubtedly lead to a dramatic shift in Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world. At a time when the UK is reviewing its global position, it is even more pressing that it deepens its Commonwealth ties and sends a message to the world that it welcomes visitors.
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