Free visa on arrival programme to be revived with new background checks for security

The free visa on arrival programme, which was scheduled to be implemented in April but suspended following the Easter attacks, will be revived soon, with new background checks for security reasons.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe instructed Minister John Amaratunga to prepare a cabinet paper to revive the already approved free visa on arrival programme. Amaratunga stated at a press conference on Tuesday (9) that he already instructed his Secretary to prepare the cabinet paper.

Since the original free visa on arrival programme was prone to misuse, the Ministry is in the process of developing a system where they can track the whereabouts of passengers as soon as they book a ticket to Sri Lanka. If that person has a bad record, they will inform the Department of Immigration and Emigration to not allow that particular person.

Tourists from 39 countries will benefit from this programme, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea,

Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, and Switzerland.

Of these 39 countries, only four countries contributed over 100,000 tourists in 2018 and only three countries contributed between 50,000 and 100,000 tourists.

Furthermore, none of the Middle East countries were included in this list, even though the region contributed over 3.5% of all tourists to Sri Lanka in 2018, along with India and China.

India and China, Sri Lanka’s two biggest tourism source markets, are not included in the original list of 39, but may be added later based on the success of the programme. It is widely known that a large number of Indian and Chinese nationals are working in Sri Lanka illegally by overstaying their visas.

According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) data, five of the 39 countries contributed 25,000-50,000 tourists, 10 countries 10,000-25,000 tourists, six countries 5,000-10,000 tourists, seven countries 1,000-5,000 tourists, and four countries below 1,000 tourists.

The Government aims to bring down 2.5 million tourists this year through this programme, in spite of the Easter attack impact on tourism.