More flights, visa rules eased for Indian ‘Umrah’ pilgrims: Saudi Haj minister
With 1.37 million Indian Muslims expected to perform ‘Umrah’ in 2024, Indians can now perform the pilgrimage with work or tourism visas
New Delhi: Saudi Arabia has revised visa regulations and increased dedicated flights to India so that more Indians can perform “Umrah”, or the pilgrimage to Makkah done outside the month of Ramzan, Saudi Hajj and Umrah minister Tawfig Bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah has said.
With 1.37 million Indian Muslims expected to perform Umrah in 2024, up from 1.2 million in 2023, Al-Rabiah said in an interview that Indians no longer require a specific visa for Umrah and can perform the pilgrimage with work or tourism visas. He also lauded the role of Indian expatriates in the economic and cultural enrichment of Saudi Arabia.
Q. What is the purpose of your visit to India?
A. During my time in India, I will have the opportunity to witness the inauguration of the “Nusuk” platform exhibition to showcase advancements in electronic services tailored for pilgrims. The platform’s primary objective is to elevate the Umrah experience, offering a range of digital services and resources designed to enhance the spiritual journey of visitors to the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medinah.
“Nusuk” also seeks to introduce pilgrims to historical and Islamic landmarks in these sacred cities, emphasising their visit’s cultural and spiritual significance. The event will showcase a collective effort to maximise the impact of the pilgrimage, providing innovative tools and services to support Umrah performers throughout their journey.
Q. What measures have been taken to facilitate the arrival of more Indian pilgrims? Could you shed light on recent changes and how they impact their experience?
A. To accommodate a larger number of Umrah pilgrims, agreements have been brokered to augment the number of dedicated flights catering to pilgrims from India. This expansion encompasses the introduction of direct flights from multiple Indian airports to Jeddah and Madinah, facilitating seamless travel.
Additionally, a strategic increase in seat capacity on Saudi Airlines has been implemented, mirroring the growing demand for Umrah pilgrimage. These collective measures aim to streamline and enrich the experience for Indian travellers, underscoring a concerted effort to ensure a smooth and expedited journey for all Umrah participants from India.
Recent revisions to Umrah visa regulations for Indian Muslims mark a significant shift, notably eliminating restrictions based on their previous visa status and introducing a user-friendly e-visa system. These changes streamlined the visa application process, leading to accelerated approvals and fostering an environment of inclusivity and heightened security.
Noteworthy adaptations include extension of the Umrah visa to 90 days. To streamline Umrah visits, individuals looking to perform Umrah can now acquire an entry visa within 48 hours. Additionally, Indian travellers are authorised to undertake Umrah in Saudi Arabia using their work, tourist or Umrah visas and with a UK, US or Schengen visa or residency in these countries. Furthermore, Indians keen on performing Umrah can obtain a stopover visa.
These measures are specifically designed to provide Indian pilgrims with enhanced flexibility throughout their journey, particularly benefiting women embarking on independent Umrah trips. By promoting gender equality and cultivating a safer, more embracing environment, these changes collectively aim to ensure a more fulfilling and secure pilgrimage experience for all travellers.
Q. Could you shed some light on the significance of initiatives like the “Tasheer” centre and how it contributes to serving Indian pilgrims?
A. Introducing the “Tasheer” centre marks a significant milestone in catering to Umrah pilgrims from India, offering expedited and seamless visa services. This initiative underscores a steadfast dedication to elevating service standards and harnessing technology to serve pilgrims efficiently.
Aligned with the core goals of the Pilgrims Experience Program, a pivotal aspect of Saudi Vision 2030, the establishment of the “Tasheer” centre exemplifies the ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s commitment to continually enhance the pilgrimage experience for all visitors to Saudi Arabia, regardless of the type of visa held. This progressive step epitomises a concerted effort to streamline the visa process, ensuring a hassle-free and convenient journey for Umrah pilgrims from India.
Q. How has the Indian community contributed to the development of Saudi Arabia?
A. The Indian community, numbering approximately two million, has made a profound and lasting impact on Saudi Arabia, excelling across domains such as economics, social engagement, cultural enrichment and academia. Their invaluable contributions have played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s development and greatly enriched Saudi society, fostering cultural diversity and mutual understanding. Actively engaged in various facets of national progress, the Indian community’s participation has driven the Kingdom’s multifaceted advancement, marking them as significant contributors to the country’s growth and integration.