A boon for tourists, techies fret.
Amidst rising concerns over H-1B visa prospects for Indian professionals, Indian tourists to the United States could soon have a smoother entry process into the U.S.
Indian and U.S. authorities have kicked off talks to expand air connectivity with more non-stop flights, allowing frequent Indian visitors quicker exits at the airport under the U.S.’ Global Entry programme and, most importantly, the prospect of setting up a pre-clearance facility at an Indian airport so passengers may avoid delays related to customs and border protection inspections at U.S. gateway airports.
Such a pre-clearance facility is currently available in Abu Dhabi for travellers to the U.S., drawing high volumes for the UAE’s flag carrier Etihad’s direct flights to the U.S. These initiatives are being considered by a bilateral working group formed under the aegis of the U.S.-India Travel and Tourism Partnership Year officially unveiled a fortnight ago.
“Some markets like Abu Dhabi has invested and received pre-clearance facility for early immigration clearance in the U.S. There are some advantages to that and that’s part of the conversation ongoing with the Indian government as well,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO, NYC and Company, New York’s official tourism and marketing organisation.
“They are also talking about expanding the Global Entry program for frequent Indian travellers to the U.S. to enable them to have faster access at the border. That’s under discussion and these are very tactical ideas to improve access and transit between the two countries,” Mr. Dixon told The Hindu.
The New York Metropolitan Authority area is home to the largest Indian population within the U.S., he pointed out. Mr. Dixon was part of an official US delegation to New Delhi led by the US Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office as part of the US–India strategic and commercial dialogue’s travel and tourism working group.
About 1.1 million Indians visited the U.S. in 2015 and spent close to $12 billion, making it the seventh-largest market for U.S. travel and tourism exports. Over the last decade, travel and tourism exports to India have more than doubled and now account for 65% of U.S. services exports to India, and U.S. Commerce Department expects a further 72% growth in arrivals from India by 2021. There are only a few non-stop connections presently between the U.S. and India operated by United Airlines, Air India and Delta Air Lines, and several one-stops through the Middle East and Europe.
At bilateral meetings on air connectivity attended by top airline officials as well, Air India has expressed interest in announcing new destinations to the U.S.
“We were looking at how we as the US travel industry can support such efforts, perhaps with additional promotions to drive travel on those carriers. That is good for both markets,” Mr Dixon said, stressing that tourism trade between the two countries is almost equal right now.
“We are going to encourage travel in both directions and are pretty confident that some positive outcomes should emerge. Our commitment is to bring more New Yorkers to India as well,” he said, adding that several ideas on the table would be negotiated further in the coming months.