Tourism Minister Harin Fernando disclosed that the Cabinet of Ministers at its meeting on Thursday, gave the green light to reintroduce the single-entry visa system.

Speaking in Parliament he clarified about the development in response to inquiries raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on the increased visa fees.

Fernando outlined the procedural steps, indicating that the matter would be presented to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Friday (yesterday), followed by a re-evaluation in the Cabinet on 7 May before implementation.

”On Thursday, the Public Security Minister presented the Cabinet paper to reintroduce the single-entry visa and it was approved,” he said.

Noting that the visa matter was extensively discussed during the Cabinet meeting, Fernando highlighted the flaws in the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system, citing security concerns and lack of authenticity due to fake accounts. “Thus, the Government opted to collaborate with VFS Global, a renowned international visa processing company operating in 64 countries,” he added.

Addressing concerns over visa fees, Fernando clarified that besides the $ 75 multiple-entry visa, which allows a six-month stay with each visit capped at 60 days, applicants are subject to an additional processing fee of $ 18.5 and a facilitation fee of $ 5.

“This fee of $ 18.5 does not go to the Government; it is for the VFS. Nonetheless, it stands as the lowest fee which is about Rs. 5,100 they levy compared to the fees charged in the other 64 countries where they operate,” he explained.

The Minister said that the introduction of the multiple-entry visa was based on suggestions from industry stakeholders. “They highlighted the challenges faced by tourists in extending their visas and it also was aimed to encourage digital nomads,” he added.

Fernando stressed that it is important to recognise that the VFS system offers greater security compared to the previous ETA system.

Despite his personal reservations, the Minister acknowledged the Government’s stance on prioritising security and industry promotion through policy decisions.

“My personal view is that requiring a visa is not essential for promoting tourism, and I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Opposition leader. However, this decision has been made as a policy by the Government. Security concerns have been raised over the years, and therefore it is crucial to take all necessary precautions to ensure safety,” he said.

The Minister also noted that a new committee has been appointed to study and come up with a holistic framework.

“From a tourism standpoint, our ideal scenario would involve exempting visa fees for certain countries during designated timeframes. As we did for the seven countries. The discussions are ongoing and stakeholders’ views would be considered before finalising the implementation,” he added.

Fernando also deferred certain concerns to the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The Minister expressed his disappointment with the Opposition’s scrutiny of the decision to raise visa fees, noting that it had been approved by Parliament and gazetted in September 2023. “This was not a spontaneous decision. This was gazetted and was approved by the Parliament. The decision to increase visa fee was gazetted in September 2023 and was announced to be implemented on 17 April 2024,” he said.

(Daily FT)

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