The first wave of COVID-19 in 2020 and the ongoing second wave came as blows to the non-resident Indian (NRI) population across the world. The impact of the pandemic, with resultant job losses and travel curbs, has hit the NRI community living in various Gulf countries the hardest.
According to government statistics provided in the Lok Sabha last year, the vast majority of NRIs live in the Gulf nations: The UAE accounted for nearly 3.5 million Indians nationals, while Saudi Arabia was home to about 2.5 million Indians.
Kuwait was home to over 1 million Indians, while Qatar and Oman had over 700,000 NRIs.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, NRIs in the Middle East have been adversely affected: Both those living in their homeland and those at their workplaces.
THE WEEK brings you the status of current travel restrictions in the various Gulf states:
The UAE imposed curbs on entry of travellers from India on April 25. Passengers who have been in India any time in the past 14 days will not be allowed entry to the UAE.
Emirates announced on Sunday that the travel restrictions on travellers from India have been extended until June 14. Emirates is continuing to operate flights carrying passengers to India. The only passengers exempt from the entry ban are UAE nationals, holders of the UAE Golden Visa and diplomatic staffers who have to comply with COVID-19 protocols, which include 10-day quarantine on arrival and RT-PCR tests at the airport and on the fourth and eighth day of their stay.
Saudi Arabia had imposed a ban on international travel when the COVID-19 outbreak began last year. Residents were allowed to leave Saudi Arabia, but not re-enter. It lifted the ban on May 17, but flights from 13 countries, including India, remained suspended.
Travellers who have transited through India and 19 other countries with high COVID-19 numbers in the past 14 days are also not allowed entry. The only exceptions to this rule are Saudi nationals and their staff, diplomats and health practitioners and their families. These exempted categories will have to provide a negative RT-PCR test and also quarantine on arrival for 14 days.
Saudi Arabia allows foreign travellers who have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine to enter without quarantine. The vaccines recognised in Saudi Arabia are those made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
People entering Saudi Arabia after one vaccine dose have to complete seven days of quarantine.
Kuwait suspended travel from India on April 24. The country has also suspended entry to any passenger who has transited through India 14 days before arriving in Kuwait; the restriction does not apply to Kuwaiti nationals and their domestic staff.
Kuwait has a mandatory quarantine requirement for passengers, lasting for 14 days. However, this does not apply to those who have got both doses of COVID-19 vaccine two weeks before arrival, or first dose five weeks before arrival or those with a COVID-19 recovery certificate and a vaccination certificate if they received the first vaccine dose at least 2 weeks before arrival.
Kuwait has allowed entry for passengers taking Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
Oman has extended the suspension of flights from India until May 31. The suspension applies to those who travelled to India 14 days prior to arriving in Oman. The restrictions do not apply to Omani nationals, diplomats, medical staff and domestic staff travelling with their sponsors.
Qatar is among the few nations in the region not to suspend flights from India. For travellers who have originated or transited through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, a negative RT-PCR report from 48 hours prior to travel is needed. In late April, Qatar mandated that the RT-PCR report be printed and not hand-written, with a QR code embedded and the test must be from an ICMR-certified lab.
Passengers arriving from India need to undergo 10-days quarantine in a dedicated quarantine facility, or 14 days if quarantine is at Mekhaines facility, irrespective of their vaccination status.
Bahrain on Sunday suspended regular travel from India, mandating entry only for its nationals and those who holding residency visas. These passengers must have a negative RT-PCR test and quarantine in a hotel or at a residence for a period of 10 days, after which they have to be tested again.
Bahrain had become a transit hub for NRIs intending to travel to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Such travellers would complete their 14-day quarantine in order to be eligible to re-enter their country of work. However, the restrictions imposed by Bahrain will hit such travellers.
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Other nations such as Armenia and Uzbekistan had also emerged as preferred transit hubs, with stranded NRIs using chartered flights to travel to these countries to spend their quarantine period.
The Times of India recently reported the 'package' cost for quarantine stay in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was around Rs 1.35 lakh for air tickets and 14-days' stay.