Indian protest leads to review of visa fees

By Sunimalee Dias

Bowing to Indian pressure, Sri Lanka has backtracked on its new visa and other immigration regulations for visitors from South Asian nations. These new moves by the government come after India expressed concern over the increase in visa fees as reported in the Sunday Times last week.

The government, according to a Tourism Authority official, is reviewing three issues after concerns were also expressed by the tourist industry. The official said the government was considering a reduction of the visa fee for visitors from South Asia, a revision of the decision to impose a $50 fee for transit passengers and allow children free-entry into the country.

Deputy Economic Development Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the government was considering a reduction of the visa processing fee to around Rs.1000 for South Asian visitors. It would also take a decision on whether a standard fee would be applicable to visitors from all South Asian nations or whether the fee would vary on reciprocal basis.

The deputy minister said the government was also considering a reduction in entry fees for SAARC nationals at tourist sites. However the $50 visa fee for visitors from non-SAARC countries will come into effect from January next year.

Tourism industry officials welcomed the moves to reduce the visa processing fee. Jetwing Hotels Chairman Hiran Cooray said they had sought a nominal fee for all countries or a visa-on-arrival process with no fee.

Tourist Hotels Association President Anura Lokuhetty said the online process for the issue of visas needed to have more clarity as it could mislead prospective visitors on the actual visa fees applicable to different countries.

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