New norms stipulate issue of only 50 visas daily

The arrival of Maldivian nationals to the city, mostly for medical treatment, could be affected in the near future with the Indian government imposing a cap on the number of visas to be issued daily.

Earlier, Maldivians coming to India were using the visa-on-arrival facility, but now those coming in for treatment have to have medical visas.

Statistics from Air-India, the only airline that connects Bangalore to Male directly, says at least 70 Maldivian nationals fly directly into Bangalore daily, mostly seeking medical treatment and a few to attend businesses here. However, the new rule by the government puts the cap at 50 daily.

While Air India operates daily direct flights to Male, it also operates a flight via Thiruvananathapuram five days a week. “Of about 100 passengers that we fly daily on an average in the direct flight, about 70 are Maldivian nationals,” Air India spokesperson told The Hindu.

The other flight via Thiruvananathapuram, that has a load factor of about 90 to 100 passengers also has a similar ratio, but the numbers get divided between Thiruvananathapuram and Bangalore, he said.

The impact of visa restrictions imposed by the Indian government is likely to be felt after the next few weeks, he said. “Our booking shows that the load factor has remained the same for the next few weeks,” the spokesperson added.

The authorities at Immigration in the Bengaluru International Airport and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) refused to comment on the exact number of Maldivians arriving here. However, according to sources in the medical fraternity, the Maldivian nationals arriving here for medical purpose first check into the hospitals, which in turn will facilitate the registration with the FRRO.

Meanwhile, Sandeep Bafna of Travel India Company, which deals with medical tourism, said that most of the Maldivian nationals coming to Bangalore do not go through tour operators, but through references from family and friends. “We get very negligible number of enquiries from Maldives,” he said, adding that many Maldivian nationals also travel to India for business purposes, mostly related to the hospitality industry.

Sanjar Imam, who operates Panache and is vice-president of Karnataka Tourism Forum, also acknowledged that not many tour operators handle medical tourism packages for Maldives, here. “Maldivians arrive here primarily seeking medical attention and some for business,” he added.

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