“More than 15 lakh foreigners, including 4.29 lakh U.S. nationals and 2.4 lakh Bangladeshis, had visited India last year when the country was on an extended period of coronavirus restrictions and visa regulations,” officials said.
“Ten countries accounted for 74.39% of the total arrival of foreigners during 2021, while 25.61% of the incoming foreigners were from the rest of the nations, “ a Home Ministry official said. A total of 15,24,469 foreigners visited India between January 1 and December 31, 2021.
The maximum number of foreigners who visited India during this period were from the United States (4,29,860), followed by those from Bangladesh (2,40,554), United Kingdom (1,64,143), Canada (80,437) and Nepal (52,544).
“As many as 36,451 citizens from Afghanistan, 33,864 nationals from Australia, 33,772 from Germany, 32,064 from Portugal and 30,374 citizens of France visited India during 2021,” the official said.
All international flights were suspended during the nationwide lockdown, which was first announced in India from March 25 to April 21 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was extended thrice till May 31.
Even though the government had announced gradual reopening of various activities from June 2020, many restrictions continued for the remaining months of 2020 and a few months in 2021.
Scheduled international flights from India to international destinations remained suspended for two years from March 25, 2020, till March 27, 2022. During this period, international flights were operated only under the ‘air-bubble’ arrangements, the official said.
There were visa restrictions too on foreigners travelling to India after the coronavirus outbreak. In order to control its spread, the Home Ministry took a series of steps to curtail the inward and outward movement of international passengers, both foreigners as well as Indians, in a calibrated manner since February 2020.
With the phased unlocking in India, the Central government has relaxed the visa and travel restrictions in a phased manner since May 2020.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued orders on October 21, 2020, permitting following categories of foreign nationals to enter India by water routes or by flights, including those under the Vande Bharat Mission or ‘air bubble’ (bilateral air travel arrangements) scheme or by any non-scheduled commercial flights as allowed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Those who were allowed include Overseas Citizen of India and Person of Indian Origin cardholders holding passports of any country.
All foreign nationals intending to visit India for any purpose (including their dependents on an appropriate category of dependent visa) except those on tourist visa were also allowed.
In March 2021, the MHA restored e-Visa regime with all the sub-categories, except e-tourist visa, for the nationals of 156 countries. Subsequently from October 15, 2021, tourist and e-tourist visas were also allowed.
Restrictions imposed on incoming passenger traffic into India through the authorised airports and seaports, immigration check posts for all categories of foreign nationals who are permitted to enter India or those who may be permitted to enter India in future were removed.
The e-visa facility with five subcategories — e-tourist visa, e-business visa, e-conference visa, e-medical visa and e-medical attendant visa — had been extended to nationals of 171 countries for entry through 28 designated international airports and five major seaports in India.
In addition to the facility, the government has extended the visa-on-arrival scheme to nationals of Japan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates with double entry for a period not exceeding 60 days for business, tourism, conference and medical purposes.
Pakistani nationals above 65 years of age who cross Attari immigration check post on foot are also granted the visa-on-arrival for 45 days of stay with single entry, subject to certain conditions, another official said.