Tourism minister attributes Sri Lanka visa issue to technical glitch

The cost of obtaining a short-term visa to visit Sri Lanka has recently doubled from $50 to $100 in April, sparking controversy and debates over the reasons behind this increase. The hike in price came as Sri Lanka shifted from its internal Electronic Travel Authorizations (ETAs) to an e-visa system operated by the visa processing company VFS Global.

Tourism Minister Harin Fernando attributed the price hike to a “technical issue,” claiming that VFS Global initially failed to offer 30-day visas when they began processing visas on April 17. However, VFS Global stated that the visa categories were introduced in accordance with the directives of Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration and Emigration.

After much backlash, both parties eventually agreed to reinstate the 30-day travel visas at the original price of $50 on May 7. The transition to VFS Global’s e-visa system was prompted by concerns over hacking of the previous ETA system by scammers, leading the Ministry of Public Security to seek a more secure and reputable provider.

Despite the security concerns, VFS Global’s fees have faced criticism from the travel industry in Sri Lanka, with allegations of corruption raised by opposition leaders. The fees, amounting to approximately $25 per visa, were disclosed in a contract signed with Sri Lanka’s immigration authority. However, VFS Global defended these charges, stating that they are approved by governments and determined based on various factors.

In response to the backlash, Fernando revealed that the fees for 30-day visas have been significantly reduced, with the government retaining $40 and VFS Global charging only $10. Additionally, citizens of seven countries are eligible for free visas to enter Sri Lanka, but they still have to pay VFS Global’s fees.

Moving forward, Sri Lanka is considering adding 60 more countries to its “free visa” list, with plans to establish a comprehensive visa policy in the near future. Despite the challenges and controversies surrounding the recent changes in the visa system, Sri Lanka remains committed to enhancing its tourism sector and welcoming visitors from around the world.

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