ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced a new visa policy to promote tourism in the country and generate additional revenue to support Pakistan’s ailing economy.
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, he welcomed the world to visit Pakistan and described the launch of the country’s visa portal as a “big step” which signified that Pakistan was safe and its security landscape had improved.
Quoting a traditional Chinese proverb on the occasion, he said “to embark on a thousand-mile journey, one has to take the first step.”
The premier also lauded the security forces, saying: "Pakistan has seen tough times in its effort to combat terrorism but the situation today is different.”
He added that the country had maintained a difficult visa policy in the past that involved cumbersome procedures, making international visitors feel “it was better not to visit Pakistan.”
However, he continued that his government had taken “the first step to open up the country, the Naya Pakistan,” saying it would attract more tourists and create new business prospects for everyone.
“Foreign investment will only come to Pakistan if businesses know they can make money here,” Khan said while talking about the country’s tourism potential.
He also hoped that Islamabad’s relations with New Delhi would improve after the Indian elections, hinting that a change in the region’s political environment could invite more backpackers to the country.
Pakistan’s thriving tourism industry in the 1970s suffered astronomically due to political turbulence in the ensuing years. The menace of terrorism, following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, further exacerbated the situation, resulting in strict visa rules that kept many visitors away.
Prior to Khan’s announcement on Thursday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had already informed that the new visa regime would initially allow citizens of the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia and China to apply for travel permits online or get visas on arrival.
He had also revealed that the facility would also be extended to other countries recognized by Pakistan after the success of the “pilot project.
According to an official handout titled “Pakistan Online Visa System,” the country’s diplomatic missions abroad have been permitted to grant 3-month visit visas while citizens from 96 countries are now eligible to get 5-year multiple-entry business visas.
The handout also maintains that the new policy will extend visa-on-arrival facility to citizens of 50 countries. Apart from that, people of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Malaysia will be able to apply for special 30-day multiple-entry visas.
“The new visa policy will benefit the whole country,” Owais Usman, director of an Islamabad-based travel and tour company, told Arab News. “More tourism will help different commercial entities – such as hotels, vendors, transport operators, local tour operators – and we may also witness more sports tourism that will give a boost to the economy. It may also help us save some tourist sites and renovate ignored archeological remains of our Mughal, Sikh and Buddhist heritage.”
Retired diplomat, Javed Hafiz, also welcomed the new visa policy, saying: “It is being done for two reasons: One, to create a soft image of Pakistan and tell the world that the country is open to everyone; and, two, to promote tourism and investment which are our requirements, even if other countries don’t extend us reciprocal facilities.”