Streamlining visas in Asia gained an airing last week in India, Pakistan and Thailand.
India intends to extend its visa-on-arrival to more nationalities in a bid to attract more tourists, but the process is lengthy and delays are expected before legislators agree on the list and safeguards.
It is considering nationals of 40 more countries for visa-on-arrivals and may also simplify online visa procedures to attract senior citizens.
A high-level committee with representatives from the Home Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Planning Commission and National Security Adviser will take the project forward.
A proposal to widen the scope of visa-on-arrival will go to the tourism and home ministries for administrative action by the planning commission, according to a Press Trust of India statement earlier this week.
“Now Home Ministry will take necessary action. It is an administrative decision which will soon see light of the day,” Planning Minister Rajeev Shukla told the PTI.
In neighbouring Pakistan, the problem is just the opposite. Members of Karachi’s chamber of commerce want easier outbound travel and they urged the US Consul General, earlier this week, to speed up business visa approval to visit the US.
The chamber said that delays in obtaining business visas amplified the hardship local businessmen face when organising essential travel to the US. It can take up to seven months to gain approval for a business visa.
Very little progress has been evident in talks between Thailand and China to improve two-way tourism by offering citizens visa-free travel.
Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports admitted, last week, that he could not foresee visa-free travel happening between the two countries for some time.
China is reportedly not that keen to promote inbound travel as there are serious capacity constraints already catering to domestic tourism. Also, Thailand is a small market for China’s inbound business. The main advantage would be to allow Chinese travellers visa-free entry into Thailand saving the costly business of travelling to the nearest Thailand consulate to apply for a visa.
China is also concerned about security issues in Thailand and the ability of its government and travel industry to ensure safety for its citizens when on holiday.
Finally, Myanmar is ready to give Thai citizens visa-free entry, but only for airline travellers. The two countries are working on a draft accord that will provide visa-free travel for citizens of both countries through designated airports. The final draft should be signed by the premiers of Myanmar and Thailand at the SEA Games opening Nay Pyi Daw, mid-December.
On a footnote of potential disgrace, there are persistent rumours that Japan will rescind visa-free travel for Thai tourists if they don’t behave. The Japanese government states that around 50 Thais a month disappear in the country to seek illegal employment. While the percentage is small compared with the hundreds of Thais who visit the country and return after 14 days it is worrying Japan’s immigration officials.
Japan’s embassy in Bangkok has denied rumours that it might cancel the agreement saying the country is committed to opening its doors to more tourists from Thailand. But there are moves to tighten checks at immigration checkpoints and deny entry to Thai travellers who give the impression they are thinking of overstaying their welcome.