Sri Lanka will shift its visa issuance operations to the internet in the new year “as early as possible.” This means that the visa-on-arrival facility will not be available from the time that the online visa process begins.

Asked about the date when the process will begin, one source in the presidential secretariat told The Hindu that the shift had been authorised by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday. “I am not aware of the modalities. But it will be from early next year. This will save a lot of visitors the trouble of going to a Sri Lankan mission in their countries, for their visas,” he added.

The Controller of Immigration and Emigration would work out the details. The President has instructed the Controller to work out an online visa regime that was simple and secure. Now, a foreign national can enter Sri Lanka if he/she holds a return air ticket and sufficient funds. Tourists from most countries are granted landing visa for 30 days at the port of entry in Sri Lanka. It is also possible to extend the visa for two months over and above the 30-day period, but this will only be done at the Immigration and Emigration head office.

It was on August 27 that Sri Lanka first announced suspension of visa-on-arrival facility extended to citizens of 79 countries, including India. The announcement was to take effect from September 30. The reasoning was to extend the visa-on-arrival facility only to those countries that reciprocate this facility. Travellers from Singapore and Maldives were exempt from this since both these countries reciprocate. Citizens of these countries are exempt from the new online process too.

However, the implementation of the scheme was delayed because of the apprehensions expressed by the tourism industry.

Tourists visiting Sri Lanka have increased manifold after the end of a three-decade war in May last year. The number of tourists went up 63.1 per cent to 72,251 in November 2010, compared with the same period the previous year.

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