Saudi Arabia has introduced several measures to facilitate travel for Indian citizens participating in Haj, including the issuance of visas within 48 hours and a 96-hour stopover visa. The announcement was made by Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj & Umrah, during his visit to New Delhi. Al-Rabiah emphasized that Indians can now undertake Umrah on business, tourism, and Umrah visas.

Speaking alongside Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, Al-Rabiah stated that Indians traveling to the West or the Middle East can obtain a 96-hour stopover visa inside the ticket issuance process. This visa allows them to perform Umrah and visit any city in Saudi Arabia. The Umrah visa itself is valid for 90 days, enabling holders to reside and explore various Saudi Arabian cities.

Highlighting the surge in Umrah pilgrims from India, Al-Rabiah mentioned a notable increase, surpassing 1.2 million in 2023, representing a 74% rise compared to 2022. Discussions between the two countries are ongoing to expand direct flight options to accommodate the growing number of Indian pilgrims. Plans include introducing new scheduled flights through Saudi low-cost airlines, Flynas and Flyadeal, and opening three new visa centers in India.

During his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Al-Rabiah and Jaishankar discussed the smooth facilitation of the Hajj pilgrimage for Indian nationals and explored opportunities to deepen the ties between the two countries.

The Haj Committee of India aims to discuss the possibility of increasing India’s Hajj pilgrimage quota during Al-Rabiah’s visit. Under the 2023 Hajj quota, approximately 1,75,000 Indians traveled to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam. Munawari Begum, vice-president of the Haj Committee of India, expressed the agenda of enhancing the Hajj quota from 1,75,025 to at least 2,00,000.

Irani highlighted that in 2023, nearly 47% of Indian pilgrims on Hajj were women, including close to 4,000 women traveling under the ‘Lady without Mahram’ category. The government is committed to making Hajj inclusive and accessible to all segments of society, especially women and the physically challenged.

The visit of Al-Rabiah to India aims to streamline the Umrah journey for international pilgrims. It is considered an essential part of a series of international tours demonstrating Saudi Arabia’s commitment to serving Umrah pilgrims worldwide. The visit aligns with the objectives of ‘Saudi Vision 2030,’ focusing on advancing procedures, enhancing services, and outlining comprehensive plans for hosting pilgrims and Umrah performers. This signifies the importance of the bilateral relationship between India and Saudi Arabia, particularly in the context of the significant cultural and religious exchange associated with the Hajj pilgrimage.

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