Suspension of visa on arrival for 84 countries on hold till January

Saturday, 24 September 2011 01:38 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis

Reluctant to undercut a booming tourism industry, the decision to end visa on arrival for 84 countries has been postponed till January, the Immigration and Emigration Department said yesterday.

This means that the Cabinet-approved online visa system which was to be in effect from 30 September this year has been postponed till January due to online application processes being incomplete.

Sources from the Visa Section of the Immigration and Emigration Department told the Daily FT that the online visa system would be launched on 30 September but would be officially in activation only in January.

The system which was approved by the cabinet in May this year under a proposal made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has only completed 75% of the system tasks, the source added. The system has still not been tested either, he admitted. “The testing period is not finalised yet. We assume that this will happen after the launch, end September.”

According to the new system that is to come into effect, foreigners visiting and travelling via Sri Lanka will be able to obtain visas through the Immigration and Emigration Department website by applying in person and paying the prescribed fee.  Sources said that the fee for visa is yet to be decided but would be a common rate for all.

“The system is an efficient one and has been used by many countries all over the world. We are confident that the implementation and the activation will run smoothly.”

Visa on arrival scheme will be available for tourists from Singapore and Maldives only as they offer the same facility for Sri Lankans travelling to their countries. Tourists from 84 other countries will have to request visas via the online system.

According to Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority statistics, the country welcomed 11,875 tourists from Singapore in 2010 while 35,791 came from Maldives. The latest figures shows that during the first eight months of the year arrivals from the two countries show a 40% and 21% increase over the same period last year, reporting 9,248 and 24,598 tourists respectively from Singapore and Maldives.

Statistics formed during the January to August period lists India, UK and Germany as the top three tourist markets for Sri Lanka; 107,201 have arrived from India, 71,151 from UK and 34,944 from Germany during the period.

Tourism industry leaders protested the move by the Government to scrap visa on arrival as Sri Lanka is still largely a last minute destination for most travellers.