Thousands of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) have been stranded in the country for nearly six months unable to join their jobs and families abroad even as India has made air bubbles with a few countries.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation is flooded with inquiries about the request to fly out Indians who wanted to return to various destinations. However, normal operations will resume only when different governments ease their travel restrictions imposed on airlines, officials said.
“We thought that the COVID-19 induced air travel restrictions would end in a few months. Now, we have been postponing our journey from March to July and now to September,” S. Vijayalekshmi, a visa holder, said.
Some have come to India from GCC nations such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on vacation. Many have requested even to visit UAE, which has eased travel restrictions, so that they could reach the other Arab countries.
Now, they feel they will lose their jobs unless these countries lift the travel ban. Many others want to visit their relatives for emergency health cases. “Those expatriates who have stayed back have been lucky in one sense instead of returning to India due to the pandemic,” R.Rajesh, an NRI said.
As of now, India has signed air bubbles which are bilateral agreements between countries to resume international flights under certain conditions, with UAE, Qatar, United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and the Maldives. Talks are on with Bahrain, Singapore, Japan, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Nigeria, Kenya, Russia, and the Philippines.
Under the Vande Bharat Mission, about 11.60 lakh Indians stranded in various countries have returned and 1.66 lakh have flown out. At the same time, some companies have allowed their employees to work from home. However, many are desperate to fly back although some countries have started relaxing air travel restrictions for foreigners.
The United Arab Emirates has allowed resident permit holders and valid visa holders to enter that country subjected to conditions including the passenger possessing a valid negative COVID-19 PCR test not more than 96 hours before the departure or undergo a COVID-19 test at the airports. Besides, an approval from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs is also required.
In case of the Sultanate of Oman, non-Omanis have to secure a permit issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs via their embassy or sponsor. Additionally, an NOC from the Passport and Residence department is required for passengers who have stayed outside Oman for more than 180 days.
Only passengers holding permanent residency can enter Qatar. However, residents arriving in Doha should have Exceptional Return Permit issued by the Qatar government.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have not opened their airports for Indians to return. Bahrain has also suspended the entry of Indian passengers. Indian nationals belonging to certain categories and status are permitted to enter Malaysia and Singapore.