'Status quo' on India-UAE travel agreement as more repatriation flights are announced
The 15-day agreement that was inked on July 12 expired on July 26.
India will operate over 105 flights to the UAE as part of phase five of its repatriation programme Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) on August 1-15. Of these, 74 flights will operate from Dubai and Sharjah, and 31 from Abu Dhabi.
A top Indian consular official said a "status quo" remains on a travel agreement that lets UAE residents stranded in India fly to the UAE on the repatriation flights. The 15-day agreement that was inked on July 12 expired on July 26. An official extension of the agreement was not announced at the time of filing this report.
Neeraj Agarwal, Consul Press, Information and Culture, told Khaleej Times: "More clarity in this matter will emerge shortly. I can confirm that the existing travel arrangement to bring back passengers who have received approvals stipulated by the UAE government will continue for the time being. Those who want to go back to India need not worry as there are ample flights available from the UAE. The same can be said for passengers wishing to return to the UAE."
UAE residents stranded in India need an approval either from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) or the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA), Dubai, to fly back. They also need a Covid-19-negative medical certificate issued by a government-approved testing centre.
Meanwhile, Indian Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said on Saturday that 814,000 passengers have returned to India since May 6 thanks to the VBM. "It is our earnest effort to reach out to every stranded and distressed Indian and facilitate their evacuation and outbound travel," he tweeted.
Neeraj Aggarwal said a formal announcement and online booking details of the special Air India and Air India Express flights of phase five of the VBM "will be announced shortly".
Expats 'desperate' to return
Several UAE residents stranded in India have sought more clarity on whether the India-UAE travel agreement has been extended.
Due to the recent changes in the PCR test regulations, a section of travellers have told Khaleej Times that they have not been able to travel to government-approved testing centres due to reasons like the ongoing lockdowns in many cities across India.
Paramasivam Sundaram, an expat stranded in Tamil Nadu, said there were no Pure Health labs in his state. "I have to travel all the way to the neighbouring state of Kerala to do the test. In these circumstances, it is impossible to travel to another state in India, serve mandatory quarantine, and catch the flight to the UAE - all in 96-hours."
He was referring to the UAE's 96-hour Covid-19 test validity requirement for all arrivals.
Some expats said they were yet to get the mandatory approvals. Javed Hasan, an Indian expat, said: "I have a valid Abu Dhabi visa. However, I am yet to receive ICA approvals. I do not know what to do."
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