COVID-19 travel: 633,000 expats fly to India, 220,000 return to UAE

Chandigarh repatriation flight leaves from Ras Al Khaimah. The number of passengers, who have travelled from UAE to India since May 7 has reached 631,000.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With non-emergency travel from the UAE to India during COVID-19 pandemic picking up drastically, the number of passengers, who have travelled since May 7 has reached 633,000, according to the Indian missions here. Meanwhile, more than 220,000 passengers have flown to the UAE from India since July 12.

As many as 635,000 Indians here had registered for repatriation ever since the Indian missions opened an e-registration service on April 29 for Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), dubbed to be India’s largest repatriation mission. However, several people, who had registered, had changed their mind after offices reopened and economic activities resumed in the UAE.

Smooth operation

Though the missions stopped the registration for stranded Indians in August following the smooth operation of an Air Bubble agreement with the UAE, they have been collecting the database of Indians flying home during the pandemic from both Indian and UAE airlines.

As of October 31, 633,000 people have travelled to India since the start of VBM on May 7, according to the figures with the missions revealed to Gulf News.

Indian Ambassador

The Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor said that more than 220,000 Indians have also flown back from India to the UAE since July 12. Indians form the largest expatriate community in the UAE, with more than 3.42million estimated to have been living in the country pre-pandemic era.

According to the Indian missions, the deficit of 400,000 expats on the ground is likely to change once the COVID-19 situation further improves in the UAE. Neeraj Agrawal, consul for Press, Information and Culture at the Indian Consulate in Dubai, said the daily air traffic between the two countries have gone up to 10,000 to 12,000 both ways since October.

Gap to decrease further

“Going forward, the gap will decrease further. As per our estimate, around 70,000 to 80,000 blue-collar workers with valid visas had gone home as their companies were suffering during the pandemic. They are likely to come back when the situation improves and the labour market picks up and visa services resume completely,” he said.

After the initial difficulties faced by Indian expats in securing permissions to return, the air travel from India to the UAE has gained significant momentum in the past couple of month.

“We are now seeing around 8,000 to 10,000 passengers flying to India and around the same number of passengers flying back to the UAE also on a daily basis,” said Agrawal. The Air Bubble agreement between the two countries have been extended from October 31 to December 31. The Ambassador expected that there would be consistent increase in air travel between the two countries in the coming months.

“A large number of people have already come back. Some still need approvals. But, we appreciate the fact that issuing visa or entry permission is the prerogative of the host country.”

While tourists from India have started arriving to the UAE, especially due to the festival season, India is yet to issue tourist visas to foreigners. However, most other visas services, except e-visas, to India have resumed.

Jobseekers warned

However, Kapoor said Indians should exercise caution while immediately returning to the UAE to look for jobs and discouraged people from flying on tourist/visit visas for job hunt. “It is better for them to wait for normal visa services to resume and the job market to pick up.”

He said the missions had solved the recent crisis of a few hundreds of Indians on tourist/visit visas getting stranded at Dubai International Airport for not complying with entry requirements.

Several Indians, who came on these visas and got stuck were job seekers, while others had fulfilled the entry requirements.

The Ambassador said the Indian missions had taken up the matter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to solve the crisis and the airlines had been instructed not to allow passengers flying on improper visas. “We are constantly working with them to improve the travel situation,” he added.

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