ISLAMABAD: With an aim to boost tourism industry and foreign investment, the government on Friday announced a new visa policy encouraging tou­rists from 50 countries to avail themselves of visa-on-arrival facility and providing e-visa to citizens of 175 countries.

This is the first time in decades that a formal policy is being introduced to allow citizens of such a large number of countries to get the visa on arrival, as the visa-on-arrival facility was previously available to nationals of 24 countries only.

Sources in the government said for many other countries, a very liberal visa policy was being framed. The condition for obtaining NOC for foreigners to travel to places like Gilgit-Baltistan, and even for many cantonment areas is also being lifted, they added.

Says e-visa for nationals of 175 countries under revised policy

The sources said that Sikhs holding Canadian and British passports would be allowed to avail the offer.

They said Pakistan missions would be allowed to grant (multiple) entry visa with five-year validity and one-year stay to foreigners of Pakistani origin and their spouses. Multiple-entry visa for family’s visit with five-year validity would be issued within seven to 10 working days after receiving an application, the sources said.

Terming the initiative ‘a harbinger of change’ and ‘a backbone of the Naya Pakistan economy’, federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain told the media that the government was introducing the ‘revolutionary visa regime’ to attract tourism and investment.

Addressing a press conference outside Parliament House a day after the prime minister with some cabinet members discussed the visa policy with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the minister said the new visa policy was one of the major initiatives taken by the present government in the past five months. He said the policy had been framed in consultation with all the departments concerned and stakeholders.

He announced that citizens from 175 countries would have e-visa facility while citizens of 50 countries would enjoy visa-on-arrival facility, as the government was striving to revive industrialisation, discourage imports, promote tourism and encourage exports.

He said there was great potential to earn foreign exchange through tourism as Pakistan was blessed with a lot of tourist spots and scenic beauty. He said tour operators registered with IOTA would be allowed to arrange visits of tourists’ groups in Pakistan.

“The British and US citizens of Indian origin would also get visa on arrival facility,” Mr Chaudhry claimed, adding that business visa facility would be extended to 96 countries from the present 68 countries.

For work visa, the sources said, Pakistan missions would be authorised to grant the permission on recommendation of the Board of Investment.

While student visa term would be for two years under the new policy, the diplomatic visa term would be extended to three years, said Mr Chaudhry.

About visa for foreign journalists, the information minister said the policy was being relaxed. He said the ministry of information and broadcasting would process visa applications of media persons. He added that long-term visas would also be issued, while the restriction on number of cities would also be waived.

The minister said the government was also contemplating to revive major festivals to provide entertainment to the masses and strengthen the country’s soft image.

He said the government wanted to make tourism the basis of development as did Malaysia and Turkey which were earning billions of dollars in this sector.

Expressing the hope that the step would help increase foreign investment and improve ties with other countries, he said: “We are going to open Pakistan to foreign journalists, businessmen, tourists and investors.”

Under the revised visa policy, the sources said, Tablighi visa with a validity of 45 days and missionary visa with one-year validity would also be issued. Besides, the government would issue visa to house aide as well.

As the government decided to allow free movement of tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and open cantonments, the authorities would issue a revised list of restricted parts of a tehsil or district where visible signboards would be installed for the purpose. Gated cantonments would retain the prohibited status, the sources explained.—Agencies

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019