A proposal that allows passengers travelling from India to the US to complete their immigration and customs formalities in New Delhi or Mumbai is to be discussed between the two countries when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the US later this month. While the facility will spare passengers time and trouble when they arrive in the US, it could also help the Delhi and Mumbai airports develop as hubs. Currently, the pre-clearance facility for travel to US is offered in a handful of countries: Ireland, Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas and most recently Abu Dhabi.
The civil aviation ministry has written to the ministry of external affairs which, in turn, will take up the matter with the US authorities, sources familiar with the development said. The immigration checks would be carried out by US Customs and Border Protection officials and aviation experts believe the facility might encourage international airlines from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore to fly to the US via India. Approximately 1 million Indians travel to the US each year.
“We want to offer the Mumbai and Delhi airports to the US border agencies for setting up an offshore immigration centre since it helps both countries given the large number of travellers. Talks are on but things will move only after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) upgrades our air safety rating, which we expect will happen by September-October,” a civil aviation ministry official said.
“We have written to the external affairs ministry on the US border pre-clearance and it will be taken up with the US after the FAA upgrade,” the official added. The upgrade of India’s air safety rating will delay negotiations because right now Indian and US airlines are not allowed to expand the number of flights to either country. The FAA downgrade happened in January this year with the authority citing an inadequate safety oversight mechanism of the domestic aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The DGCA has since complied with all requirements, especially hiring key safety inspectors. Last month top officials from the regulator met FAA officials to apprise them of the progress.
For the US authorities the move will help reduce congestion at some of the bigger airports like New York’s John F Kennedy and Chicago’s O’Hare, besides helping those passengers looking to take a connecting flight.
Around 6.2 lakh tourist and short-business visas were issued in 2013 to Indians from five centres of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad, according to data with the US government’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
This excludes IT professionals with long-term contracts and those travelling to the US on multiple-entry 10-year visas. Currently, the bulk of the domestic air passengers going to and from the US are carried by West Asia-based carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Air India and United Airlines also operate direct flights between the two countries while Jet Airways routes its US flights through its hub in Brussels.