India may soon open its doors to foreign tourists for the first time in a year-and-a-half, officials said amid a decline in the number of coronavirus cases in the country.

Visas will be issued free of cost to the first five lakh foreign tourists in an effort to revive the tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic since the nationwide lockdown was announced from March 2020.

Top officials of the Union Home Ministry are holding discussions with all stakeholders on the expected date and modalities to open the country to foreign tourists.

A home ministry official said a formal announcement of foreign tourists coming to India could be made within the next 10 days. The decision is being taken in view of the declining number of coronavirus cases in the country.

Free visas to tourists will be issued till March 31, 2022 or till the issuance of five lakh visas, whichever is earlier. The total financial implication for this would be INR 100 crore.

The official said the free visa move is expected to encourage short-term tourists visiting India.

The cost of a one-month e-tourist visa is country-specific, but is around $25. The year-round multiple entry e-tourist visa fee is approximately $40. The e-tourist visa has been suspended since March 2020.

Home ministry officials said they were still considering whether foreign tourists would be allowed to enter with certain conditions, such as limiting it to only vaccinated travelers for now and having a negative list of countries where COVID-19 cases are a matter of concern.

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