Vietnam to ease visa restrictions in effort to boost tourism

| 8/1/2015 |

For tourists from North America and Europe, obtaining a Vietnamese visa has traditionally been more difficult than those of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Whereas most countries with a significant economic interest in tourism have made it easy for visitors from rich-world countries to obtain visas upon arrival (or to avoid visas altogether), Vietnam still requires citizens of most Western countries to apply for tourist visas in advance at Vietnamese representations in their home countries. For some, this additional cost and administrative burden has been enough to take Vietnam off of their routes in favour of more accessible countries such as Thailand, Cambodia or Malaysia. As part of a broader effort to boost tourism in Vietnam, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered immigration authorities and other relevant bodies to ease the country’s entry requirements for citizens from rich-world countries. Whilst a resolution passed in December did not mention specific countries, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has previously identified France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, India and Canada as key markets for which visa liberalization should be prioritized. If the proposed reforms go ahead, the target markets would join a list of countries whose citizens enjoy privileged access to Vietnam. Holders of passports from ASEAN countries do not require visas to enter the country, and citizens of Scandinavian countries as well as Russia, Japan and South Korea can already enter visa-free for up to 15 days. Tourism figures for Vietnam in 2014 were up by over 5% compared on the year before, despite a dip in arrivals around May after a series of violent public demonstrations relating to maritime disputes. The effort to make entry easier for Western countries in part derives from concern that the Vietnamese tourism industry is too reliant on Chinese-speaking visitors, who made up 2.4million out of the total 7.5million visitors to Vietnam in 2013. Large numbers of cancellations were made by Chinese-speaking people after the May demonstrations. The tourist visa reforms are part of a wider effort to streamline Vietnam’s immigration process. Immigration officials have been instructed to begin issuing five-year residence permits to foreigh investors from the start of 2015 (previously only one-year three-year permits could be obtained). For the first time, foreigners will be able to apply to the Ministry of Public Security for permanent resident status.

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