India announces plans to end visa chaos for UK visitors

Bombay skyline in India - Getty
Bombay skyline in India - Getty

After months of chaos and confusion, India has finally announced plans to restore e-visas for UK travellers.

In a strange post-pandemic quirk, UK travellers currently – after years of being able to take advantage of the online applications – have to secure a visa for India in person, and huge demand plus a lack of interview slots has led to scores of ruined holidays.

Thankfully, Indian authorities have finally rethought the policy and confirmed plans to streamline travel to the country. In a video statement posted on Twitter, Vikram Doraiswami, the High Commissioner to the UK, said: “We are rolling out e-visas once again and this service will be made available to you forthwith. Dates will be announced shortly. That should enable friends from the UK far more easily to India.

“We look forward to a good winter season in which everyone gets to celebrate their festivals in India which is the land of festivals.”

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Below, we run through the key details you need to know about travel to India in the coming months.

When will the e-visa be restored?

As outlined above, an exact date has yet to be announced but the statement indicates the easing of the rules will occur in the near future.

Given that travellers from the vast majority of other countries are able to enter India using an e-visa, the switch should not be too difficult to enact. Moreover, given the facility was previously available to UK travellers, reverting back should, in theory, be straightforward.

The caption accompanying Doraiswami’s video statement also suggests that the system will be back up and running imminently: “Team @HCI_London is delighted to confirm that e-visa facility will again be available for UK nationals travelling to India. System upgrade is underway and the visa website will soon be ready to receive applications from friends in the UK.”

What are the current visa rules and why are they so complicated?

The UK was on the list of countries able to apply for an e-visa until August 2021, when – along with Canada – it was removed. The reasons why this happened are not completely clear, but might have had something to do with Britain putting India on its travel red list in April 2021 over fears about the emerging Delta variant.

India fully reintroduced the e-visa system in March 2022 and for a while seems to have been turning a blind eye to applications from UK tour operators, if not British individuals.

However this autumn, tighter enforcement of the rules caught travel companies unawares and left holidaymakers without the correct paperwork to visit the country.

It has been suggested that the stricter application of the regulations could have been part of a tit-for-tat game as the process to travel to the UK from India is not particularly straightforward.

In an official notice back in October, India’s High Commission in the UK explained that in-person applications and interviews were required due to “unauthorised agents and individuals illegally charging fees and collecting India visa applications for submission at VFS Centres, misleading applicants and misrepresenting the services they can legally provide.”

It’s unclear why it has now rethought this policy.

How can I safeguard my holiday to India?

If you have booked a holiday to India in the coming months, it remains vital you don’t delay attempting to secure an in-person visa appointment. If you have booked your holiday through a tour operator, contact them for advice.

In terms of lead times for applications, travel industry insiders suggest these have reduced in recent weeks but this varies across the country. There are currently nine visa processing centres in the UK and those unable to travel can appoint someone to attend on their behalf – if they secure an official letter of authorisation, which itself presumably takes some time.

Once the e-visa is restored, it will no longer be necessary to book an in-person appointment. Those travelling from eligible e-visa countries can apply through an online portal, where they are required to upload a passport photo, personal details and pay a fee, which typically ranges from $10 to $80, depending on location. The visa typically takes no more than 72 hours to process.