El Salvador has recently introduced a policy that requires Indian nationals to pay US$1,000 to enter the country by air.
The fee, announced by El Salvador’s port authority (CEPA) on October 20, will be applied also to passengers from over 50 African countries, including Angola, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt.
CEPA stated that the new fee responds to an increase in the volume of passengers traveling through the country’s international airport and the need for better, more modern infrastructure.
It is suspected that the new fee is also an attempt to hinder the larger flows of immigrants coming from India and a score of African countries and who use El Salvador as a springboard to enter the United States.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency says it intercepted as many as 42,000 Indians in 2022. However, there are no specific reports of Indians making their journey towards the US border through El Salvador.
According to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration, some African migrants are flying directly into Central America to bypass the dangerous Darién Gap, a jungle region between Panama and Colombia.
Days before CEPA’s announcement, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele held a meeting with Brian Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
According to Nichols, who spent the last days of October touring Central America, he spoke with Bukele about “efforts to promote foreign direct investment in El Salvador, bilateral cooperation on rule of law, and mutual efforts to address irregular migration.”
Potential for Trouble
The new air travel fee has the potential to damage bilateral trade relations between India and El Salvador, and it would probably fail in preventing Indians from entering the US illegaly.
El Salvador is located far from the US-Mexico border, the main gateway for undocumented migrants to the United States. An IT worker in Bangalore, India, who worked for an Indian technology services provider in Mexico City for over five years, told NSAM that “Indians can fly directly to Mexico, instead of El Salvador. You cannot bypass Mexico to reach the US.”
It was a pleasure to meet Ms. Adriana Mira, Vice Foreign Minister of El Salvador.
Discussed areas of mutual cooperation in digital goods, health, capacity building, culture and people to people ties. pic.twitter.com/7PPj5JDdIN
— Meenakashi Lekhi (@M_Lekhi) May 2, 2023
El Salvador has grown into an emerging trade partner for Indian manufacturers. In the last decade, imports from India have increased by more than 239%, reaching US$134 million. El Salvador’s exports to India reached just US$2.5 million in 2019.
Back in January, Salvadoran authorities held a meeting with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to promote interest from Indian businesses in several sectors of the Salvadoran economy, including digital payment platforms.
NSAM reached out to El Salvador’s investment promotion agency (PROESA) and to the office of the Commissioner for Strategic Projects in order to gauge the effects of the new fee on Indian passengers. None of them responded to our messages as of the time of this publication.