Feb 4, 2011

Srilanka's visa move

Peace after decades of war is welcomed by everyone. But for financial reasons, the hotel and tourism business welcomes it more than anyone else. Yet, it would seem ironic almost tragic that government of Srilanka chooses to impose new visa rules that restrict tourist flow just when the floodgates are about to open.

I love visiting Lanka and was happily enjoying visa free travel but I do understand where they are coming from..

Srilanka is simply saying this - if you give our citizens visa free entry, we will reciprocate, if not, well, sorry, please join the queue and apply.

Hats off!

India is introducing visa free entry to numerous nationalities though most, if not all, of them don't offer reciprocal benefits. And our economy is definitely less tourism dependent than Lanka's

But it is a wrong solution to a wrong problem.

Why?

The problem is not visa - the problem is with the process that goes with it. Getting anything done with any department associated with Govt. of India means waiting in dingy, poorly lit, crowded rooms with a solitary fan, five pages of forms to fill out in triplicate, waiting in endless queues and if you are unlucky, harassment, bribes and what not. I used to joke that it is easy to find poor facilities, delays and poor service in super-efficient Singapore - just visit the Indian High Commission!

If visas can be applied online, processed without question for 90-95% of the ordinary business or leisure traveler, granted electronically, paid for by credit card and without a trip to any agent, tout or the embassy, no right thinking person would object to applying for it. They will happily pay $20 or more to get it done if they want to visit the Taj Mahal or do business in India.

If that sounds far fetched, that is exactly how Singapore visa works...today and has been that way for years..it can be done.

Do that and then impose prior visa requirement on any nation that that does not provide reciprocal benefits. Then we are sending two powerful messages - India is a nice place to visit and an efficient place to do business and is not a banana republic that bends over backwards to earn a few dollars more.

Will GOI learn from proud Lankans?

PS: GOI should immediately grant Lankans visa free entry now that the lame excuse (LTTE) is not valid anymore...I would go further and strongly recommend that Lankans should be able to work and reside in India if they wish, just like it is in Europe..this is one area where GOI should not wait for reciprocity, and show the way forward for South Asia.

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