Policy

Covid-19 impact: Visa regulations unlikely to change immediately, say experts

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on April 28, 2020

At the moment, there is no clarity on what will happen to visas and social distancing norms once flights resume.

Even as flyers across the world are uncertain about when restrictions on international flights will be lifted, and they will be able to fly again, there is a new twist: Will the holders of multiple entry visas to various countries be expected to reapply for fresh visas when they decide to travel after the opening of the international skies post the Covid-19 epidemic?

At the moment, there are no clear answers to this question.

No specific changes

Former Indian diplomats that BusinessLine spoke to felt that the possibility of introducing some additional health certifications, as has happened in the past, cannot be entirely ruled out. However, that is will come later. At the moment, there is no clarity on what will happen to visas and social distancing norms once flights resume.

Pointing out that no announcement has been made regarding changes in the existing visa rules, former Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad, said that governments across the world will apply their minds to visa-related matters only after they get a handle on the pandemic.

In a statement VFS Global said that so far, with the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic still unfolding, it had not been informed of any specific changes for any client government. VFS Global looks after visas application centres for 64 client governments across 146 countries across the globe.

What everyone is talking about now is what is likely to happen in the middle- to long-term, once international flights resume.

Dhruv Shringi, Co-Founder and CEO, Yatra.com, says, “We can expect government guidelines to suggest a mandatory medical check-up at every airport, or during visa processes. Essential travel, such as that for medical or legal purposes, will pick up the fastest. Visa-on-arrival might take time to come back as it is dependent on respective government decisions.”

Issuing visas is a decision taken by respective governments, so all that airlines can do is wait to find out what their governments decide.

Determinant factor

However, if former diplomats are to be believed, this decision will come sometime in the future and not immediately. First, a lot depends developing a vaccine to combat the virus.

“Once a vaccine has been developed, and it has been tested and certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO), only then will governments start working on norms for the movement of people across borders. It is possible that certification of this vaccine could be made mandatory by the WHO. A medical test at departure or arrival, or both, could also be mandatory initially. A vaccine for Covid-19 will be introduced sooner or later, making it easier for people to travel,” said Ambassador Ahmad.

Ambassador Ahmad is also of the view that multiple entry visa holders are unlikely to face too many problems during the post-coronavirus reopening.

Such visas are given to specific categories of people like businessmen or tourists to encourage them to travel freely. “Once the pandemic is controlled, the priority of every government will be economic recovery. Making it difficult for multiple visa holders to enter freely will not help that process,” he said.

According to Ambassador Ahmad, it would be wrong to say that hassle-free travel through 26 European States, as is allowed by a Schengen visa, might be a thing of the past, as this is important for European Union unity. It is, however, possible that some of the EU countries, like Spain and Italy which have been more affected by the pandemic, could place some special health requirements for some visitors.

How this works out on the ground, however, remains to be seen.

Health certificates

Others like Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty are optimistic that things will fall into place soon as imposing health conditions is not new. He points out that western countries have asked for TB-free certificates from visa applicants.

Ambassador Ahmad adds that as and when a successful coronavirus vaccine is introduced, it might be made mandatory for visa applications in the future.

But till that happens, flyers will have to reconcile to the fact that international flying is going to become not only more expensive, but also more complicated.

Published on April 28, 2020

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