Jan 29, 2014

ASEAN Considers Single Visa

ASEAN’s may have embarked on a mission to establish a so-called “common visa”, but there is still a considerable distance to cover to make it a reality, according to assessments made during tourism minsters’ press briefing Monday.

It warranted a mention in the minsters’ progress report, outlined at a media briefing, but only to say ministers were “working closely with relevant agencies on the development of a common visa for non-ASEAN nationals and its possible implications on tourism.”

Relevant agencies in this instance are immigration bureaus, national security and police. Ministers admitted privately there are still considerable hurdles to overcome to turn it into a reality.

The subject gains an airing at the annual ATF usually in the minsters’ report card on activities and discussions that confirm it is still on the radar, although not an urgent must-do project before the ASEAN Economic Community kicks in 2015.

On the sidelines of the ministers press briefing, Monday, Indonesia’s minister of tourism and creative economy, Dr Mari Elka Pangestu, said 2014 would see Myanmar sign off on visa free entry for all ASEAN member-country citizens. It is the last of the 10 countries to introduce visa-free travel for the region’s citizens.

“That will be significant progress, we are not sure when Myanmar will complete bilateral agreements on visa-free travel, but we have been assured it will happen before ATF 2015.”

Myanmar has signed bilateral agreements on visa-free travel with Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam. Thailand was supposed to be next, but Thai caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, postponed her trip to Myanmar last November when she was scheduled to sign off on the agreement.

In addition, it is understood that Myanmar has still to negotiate bilateral agreements on visa-free travel with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Once that process has been completed,” Indonesia’s tourism minister explained, “the next logical step would be to look closely at the Thailand-Cambodia single visa project that is now a pilot project… it could be extended to five of the six Mekong Region countries that all members of ASEAN.”

If that project could be extended smoothly to include all five Mekong Region countries to offer a single visa for non-ASEAN nationalities, the minister believed it would become a sound platform to build an ASEAN-wide common visa.

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