London: Over 50 leaders from the world of business and politics in Britain and India have backed a campaign for the UK to extend its new 87-pound two-year visitor visa to Indian nationals.
In a letter created by the UK’s Royal Commonwealth Society’s and published in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ today, the signatories call for a pilot visa scheme offered to China in January 2016 to be extended to Indian visitors, who still have to pay 330 pounds for a two-year visa or 87 pounds for six months.
“In the last decade, the UK’s market share of India’s outbound tourists has halved despite the Indian market growing at 10 per cent each year and a burgeoning middle class.”
“If the UK maintained its share, it would be welcoming over 800,000 Indian visitors annually – adding almost half a billion to the UK economy and creating 8,000 new jobs,” reads the letter, which has been signed by Chandrajit Banerjee, Director-General of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII); Lord Karan Bilimoria, chairman of Cobra Beer; Indian-origin Labour MP Virendra Sharma, chair of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group; among others.
“The strength of the UK-India relationship today must also reflect in a stronger visa regime. This policy suggestion for a two-year UK visa for Indian nationals could provide a big boost to tourism, and comes at a very opportune time as 2017 is declared the UK-India Year of Culture,” said Mr Banerjee.
The letter comes after the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) released a report in July in partnership with leading aviation, tourism and industry groups outlining the sound case for visa reform.
The report’s author, Tim Hewish, Director of Policy and Research at the Royal Commonwealth Society, said: “This letter demonstrates the broad support for reform of the UK-India visitor visa scheme across tourism, aviation, business and politics.
“We urge the UK government to listen to these individuals as leaders in their field and proactively discuss this proposal with the Indian government without delay.”
France has leapfrogged the UK as the most visited European nation by Indians, attracting 500,000 visitors from the subcontinent in 2015.
The letter highlights that “visa reform would support ease of doing business, make the UK more attractive to Indian leisure tourists and help reunite the diaspora with visiting family”.
The RCS report, released soon after the Brexit vote, had warned that in light of the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU, it is now more vital than ever that the UK strengthens its ties with India and sends a strong message that it welcomes Indian visitors and is open for business.