UAE-India air corridor extended as expats leave and others return

India's consulate said 650,000 of its citizens have left since early May, but 240,000 returned as the economy slowly gets back on track

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An air travel agreement opening up commercial flights between the UAE and India was extended until the end of the year.

The Indian consulate in Dubai said there was "healthy growth" in travel between the nations as Covid-19 restrictions gradually ease.

The UAE-India "air bubble" – established in July – allows for direct commercial travel between the two countries but does not include transit passengers flying to other destinations

Under the partnership, Indian citizens who live in the UAE can fly home for holidays as well as to repatriate, while any Indian citizen holding any form of UAE visa can travel from their home country to the Emirates.

Officials said the agreement, which was to have expired at the end of October, will continue for at least the remainder of 2020.

There is a constant increase in air travel between the two countries

"We are witnessing healthy growth in travel between India and the UAE," Neeraj Agrawal, a spokesman at the Indian consulate in Dubai, told The National.

“Right now, we are not witnessing a distressed situation where people are leaving.

“It’s not like it was in May, June and July.

“We have a figure of 650,000 people who have travelled to India but we can’t say that these are people leaving the UAE because now this is normal traffic, the dynamics have changed.”

Mr Agrawal said the demand for travel to the UAE from India have risen since flights resumed on July 12.

“It’s the festival season so people are coming to visit family and also for holidays,” said Mr Agrawal.

“There is a constant increase in air travel between the two countries and as of today there is more than 12,000 seat capacity each way.”

Embassy officials confirmed a further 240,000 Indians had travelled to the UAE since the bi-lateral travel agreement was signed.

The Indian consulate in Dubai said more than 650,000 people have travelled to India since May 7.

But those records do not reflect specifics of the number of residents who went back temporarily, for medical treatment or annual leave, and had returned to the UAE.

International air travel shut down in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. India began Vande Bharat or Salute India flights to repatriate citizens in May.

The Indian consulate and embassy then asked citizens to register with details of their reasons for travel and the city they needed to reach.

The elderly, pregnant women and people who had lost jobs were given priority when flights began on May 7.

In a huge repatriation programme of the largest diaspora in the UAE, thousands of flights were operated by the government-run Air India and private airlines.

About 630,000 people registered on the Indian government website to travel home.

Mandatory registrations were shut two months ago after the air corridor agreement began.

Thousands of Filipinos return home

Philippines consul general in Dubai reported about 50,000 nationals had returned home following a resumption of flight schedules out of the UAE.

Of those, the Philippine Consulate provided free tickets and assistance to more than 2,600 nationals, either made redundant or with little option but to return home.

Before Covid-19 forced many to reconsider their futures, roughly 700,000 Philippine nationals were estimated to live in the UAE.

Consul General Paul Cortes said some workers were asked by employers to go on furlough, while Filipino tourists stranded by grounded airlines also received embassy help to fly home.

The majority returned on commercial flights operated by Emirates Airline, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, while others took three special repatriation flights in June and August.

Air tickets worth Dh5.2 million were funded by the Assistance to Nationals department of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

On landing in Manila, workers were tested by the coastguard for Covid-19, with hotel expenses for those forced into quarantine paid by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Embassies in the UAE reported a further 80,000 Pakistanis and 20,000 Bangladeshis had also left the country, but many could now return as employment prospects recover.

Last month a group of 545 Pakistanis and about 150 to 200 Indian citizens were stopped at Dubai International Airport for failing to meet visit visa requirements.

Those arriving on a tourist visa must have a return airline ticket, a minimum of Dh2,000 to support their stay, hotel reservation or address and contact of the relative they are staying with.