Visitors to Sri Lanka, except from Singapore and the Maldives, will not receive visas on arrival in the immediate future, a senior government official announced yesterday.
Immigration and Emigration Controller Chunnanda Perera told The Sunday Times the measure was to become effective from September 30. However, he said, the new scheme announced on Friday and later put on hold, was to provide space for the tourist industry.
Mr. Perera said unless other countries reciprocated by providing visas on arrival to Sri Lankans, no exception would be made. This would even include countries like the United States, Britain and others in Europe.
“However it does not mean that the issue has been completely knocked off. We need to think and draw up a new scheme where foreigners intending to visit the country could have easy access to Lankan visas in their home countries,” Mr. Perera said.Certainly we do not expect a man from Milan to fly all the way to Rome just to collect a Sri Lankan landing visa. Therefore a new scheme will be implemented where tour operators and individuals could be able collect a Lankan visa in lesser time,” Mr. Perera added.
At present tourists and other individuals from some 73 countries enjoy the “visa on arrival’ facility but only Singapore and the Maldives have reciprocated in a fair manner and have provided the same facility for Lankan visitors, he said.
The move is also aimed at encouraging other countries to provide Lankans with visas on arrival since the security threat is now near zero with the end of the separatist conflict more than a year ago, Mr. Perera said.
Hotels Association President Anura Lokkuhetti said that if the Government was seeking to implement this new visa rule it could spell ‘disaster’ for the tourist industry, but he was happy to note that it had been put on hold.
“The country has become a good destination now that the war is over and we should not destroy this chance. Tour operators in those countries will not bother to be running to embassies to obtain visas since it will be a waste of time and money.
“In addition the Government has set a target of 2.5 million for foreign visitors and about 18,000 new hotel rooms within the next five years. There is no logic in rushing in such a visa regulation when everything is looking good for the future,” Mr. Lokkuhetti said.