Malaysia eases visa rules for South Asia tourists

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The Independent Online

Malaysia will relax visa rules for travellers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in an effort to boost tourism, an official said Tuesday.

At present visitors from the four countries need to obtain a visa before entering Malaysia, after the government in 2008 scrapped a tourist-friendly visa programme for them in a bid to curb illegal immigration.

Under the new rules, they can visit the Southeast Asian nation without a visa while transiting to another country, Tourism Malaysia director general Mirza Mohammad Taiyab told AFP.

"It will be easier for them to holiday in Malaysia with this transit pass. We hope there won't be any abuse," Mirza said, adding that the government had yet to decide how long visitors would be allowed to stay.

He said combined tourist arrivals from the four countries stood at 1.59 million last year, led by Bangladesh with 887,443 visitors.

Malaysia in 2006 introduced a visa-on-arrival scheme for visitors from 24 countries to promote tourism, one of the country's main foreign exchange earners.

Immigration officials however called for it to be scrapped after many visitors were found to have overstayed, the majority of them reportedly Indians who remained to work in restaurants and on plantations.

Malaysia recorded 7.62 million tourist arrivals between January and April this year, up from 7.34 million in the same period last year.