How can we make Indian visitors’ passage to Britain simpler?

How can we make Indian visitors’ passage to Britain simpler?

By Antonia Filmer | 9 July, 2016

The Royal Commonwealth Society has submitted a report written by Tim Hewish, Director of Policy and Research at the Royal Commonwealth Society,recommending an extension of a new cheaper and lengthier visitor visa to Indian nationals. Hewish reports in the last 10 years Britain has welcomed over 3 million Indian visitors for business and tourism, many of these visits will have served to reunite thousands of families and friends who live across the UK and India, all of these visits will have been enabled by visas.

But recently there has been growing competition from other destinations in Western Europe to attract Indian visitors, France has now overtaken the UK as the leading destination for Indian tourists. The UK’s market share of these visitors has fallen substantially, from a 4.42% share in worldwide Indian tourism in 2006 to a 2.13% share in 2013. Just over 400,000Indians visited the UK in 2015 and spend almost twice the amount as the average visitor. Indian business visitors spend almost three times the amount spent by the average business visitor. Such visits have helped power the UK’s tourism industry and also support the wider UK economy in regions across the country.UK losing its market share of Indian tourists costs almost £500m and misses out on 8,444 additional jobs in the tourism industry but by the opposite example, 24% of the 83,501 e-tourist travellers to India in November 2015 were British nationals.

The timing would be perfect to introduce the improved visa, providing the UK Government with an ideal opportunity to extend a more favourable two-year visitor visa to the 2017 Indian visitors.

Hewish’s proposes to extend the existing UK - China £87 visa pilot scheme to include India nationals, which would offer Indian tourists a two year multiple entry visa for the same price as the existing 6 month visa. This compares to £330 currently paid by India nationals for a 6-month visa, £330 for a two-year visa and £752 for ten years.

UK-India relations matter, there exists a living,contemporary connection. The 2011 Census demonstrated that Indians in the UK were the largest diaspora group with 1.4m people, 60,000 of these attended Narendra Modi’s rally in Wembley Stadium.The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal tour to India this April notably resulted in a sharp rise in holiday bookings to India.It is hoped the £87 visa would transform the appeal of the UK visa scheme for Indians, it gives Indians visa options comparable to the one granted by the UK to Chinese nationals. Indiais the most significant BRICS and emerging economy,this visa would be recognition of its importance to the UK Government and the UK as a whole.

After Narendra Modi’s visit in November 215 David Cameron announced the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture, a plentitude of cultural events over a year-long programme to celebrate UK’s cultural ties with India during the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence;the timing would be perfect to introduce the improved visa, providing the UK Government with an ideal opportunity to extend a more favourable two-year visitor visa to the 2017 Indian visitors. The British Library will be digitising 200,000 pages of their South Asian archives, two centuries of Indian print will be part of a major programme to make the wealth of Indian printed books held by the British Library dating from 1714 to 1914 accessible to anyone around the globe; and an India exhibition is being planned at the Manchester Museum before the opening of their India gallery. Shakespeare’s First Folio and Magna Carta will tour India and popular Bollywood waxworks will feature in new Madame Tussauds in New Delhi.

Hewish’s policy proposal builds on the existing UK offer to China, adding India to the scheme will signal the UK’s intent that it views China and India as being on an equal footing.

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