Saudi announces ‘visa within 48 hours’, 96-hr stopover visa for Indian Haj pilgrims | India News

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In a major boost for Indian citizens undertaking Haj, Saudi Arabia Tuesday announced a slew of measures, including visa issuance within 48 hours and a 96-hour stopover visa.

Additionally, Indian citizens can now perform Umrah on business, tourism and umrah visas, said visiting Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj & Umrah, Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah, in New Delhi.

Addressing reporters along with Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State, External Affairs, V Muraleedharan, Al-Rabiah said, “Indians travelling to the West or Middle East (West Asia) can obtain a stopover visa for 96 hours and get a visa within the ticket issuance process, which allows them to perform umrah and visit any city in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia).”

“The Umrah visa is valid for 90 days and allows the holders to reside and visit any Saudi Arabian city,” he added.

The Saudi minister noted a significant increase in the number of Umrah pilgrims from India, surpassing 1.2 million in 2023. “That is a 74% increase in comparison with 2022,” he said.

Festive offer

He also said that the two countries are now holding discussions to enhance the range of direct flights options to accommodate an increasing number of Indian pilgrims.

“We are also focused on enhancing capacity to meet the anticipated increase by introducing new scheduled flights through Saudi low-cost airlines, Flynas and Flyadeal,” he said and added that three new visa centres will be opened in India.

Later in the day, he held a meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, wherein they discussed “the smooth facilitation of the Hajj pilgrimage by Indian nationals, and also shared views on further deepening the ties between the two countries,” according to a post by Jaishankar on X.

The Haj Committee of India is hoping to discuss increasing India’s Hajj pilgrimage quota during Al-Rabiah’s visit. Under the 2023 Hajj quota, around 1,75,000 Indians travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Haj pilgrimage – one of the five pillars of Islam. “One of the agendas of the visit is to discuss the enhancement of the Hajj quota from the existing 1,75,025 to at least 2,00,000,” said Munawari Begum, vice-president of the Haj Committee of India.

Irani said, “In 2023, close to 47% of Indian pilgrims who embarked on Hajj were women, including close to 4,000 women who went under the ‘Lady without Mahram’ category.” The government is also committed towards making Hajj inclusive and accessible towards all segments of society, especially women and ‘Divyangjan’ (physically-challenged), she added.

The visit will be useful in charting the course for Hajj 2024 in an efficient and smoother way as Hajj pilgrimage is an important aspect of the bilateral relationship between India and Saudi Arabia, said Muraleedharan.

Al-Rabiah began his official visit to India on Monday “aimed at strengthening collaboration and streamlining the Umrah journey for international pilgrims,” the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi said.

The visit to India is “an important part” of a series of international tours aimed at showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to serving Umrah pilgrims from around the world, the Embassy statement said.

“It aims to achieve significant advancements in streamlining procedures, enhancing services, and outlining comprehensive plans for hosting pilgrims and Umrah performers, aligning closely with the outlined objectives of ‘Saudi Vision 2030,’” the statement said.

Al-Rabiah will hold high-level discussions with Indian officials and prominent figures in the Hajj and Umrah service sector, the embassy added.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

Divya A

Divya A reports on travel, tourism, culture and social issues – not necessarily in that order – for The Indian Express. She’s been a journalist for over a decade now, working with Khaleej Times and The Times of India, before settling down at Express. Besides writing/ editing news reports, she indulges her pen to write short stories. As Sanskriti Prabha Dutt Fellow for Excellence in Journalism, she is researching on the lives of the children of sex workers in India. … Read More

First uploaded on: 05-12-2023 at 23:43 IST





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