Sri Lanka to scrap visa on arrival

Sri Lanka has revived plans to scrap the visa on arrival for foreigners, except Maldivians and and Singaporeans, and will launch an on-line visa application system, officials said Friday.

The government was to discontinue granting landing permits from October 1, but the scheme was put on hold following objections from the tourism industry. However, the authorities will now implement the system soon, officials said.

An immigration department source said the tourism industry had argued that foreign holidaymakers would be discouraged from visiting if they have to go to a Sri Lankan embassy for a visa before travelling.

The Sri Lankan president's office in a statement said Friday that the authorities will soon launch an on-line application system for foreign nationals to get their visas through the Internet.

"The President instructed officials to quickly introduce a simple system of obtaining visas through the use of the Internet," the statement said. It did not elaborate.

"We are working on a system to expedite the visa applications online," an official at the immigration department said.

He said visitors from Singapore and the Maldives, which grant Sri Lankan passport holders landing permits on arrival, would be exempted from having to obtain a visa before reaching the island.

Sri Lanka has granted foreign tourists a 30-day visa on arrival since the 1970s as part of a move to promote tourism, which was badly affected by the island's 37-year ethnic conflict.

The local tourism industry has been buoyed by a near 50 percent increase in foreign visitors since fighting ended in May last year. Sri Lanka hopes to attract over 700,000 tourists in the New Year.