Short-stay visa waiver scheme to boost tourism


TOURISTS AND business people from 16 states, including China, India and Russia, will be able to enter the country without a visa from today if they already have a valid British visa.

Under the Government’s short-stay visa waiver programme, visitors from the participating states will be able to stay in Ireland for a maximum of 90 days. Nationals of these states who are long-term residents of Britain will still have to obtain a visa to travel to the Republic. The visa fee however will be waived as part of the programme.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who launched the programme yesterday in Dublin, said the “innovative package” of measures would encourage more tourists from new markets to travel to Ireland.

He said it was a timely initiative as the scheme would cover the time period during which the London Olympics will be held. He said the trade-off in economic terms for relaxing Ireland’s immigration controls should be a significant increase in visitor numbers.

“By definition, it will lead to us opening up our immigration checks to some extent, but I am greatly heartened that the visitors coming here will already have been cleared by the UK authorities,” Mr Kenny said.

The visa waiver programme includes nationals of Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Kazakhstan, China and Uzebekistan.

The programme will run as a pilot scheme until the end of October 2012 but it may be amended or expanded at any point depending on the results.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he was anticipating that the programme would become permanent in the future.

He said the initiative was a first step towards even greater co-operation with the British authorities in relation to the operation of the common travel area.

“In this respect, my officials have had preliminary discussions with their UK counterparts to explore the feasibility of introducing reciprocal arrangements.”

The Government hopes making it easier for tourists and business people to enter the country will provide a boost to the economy.

It is hoping the visa programme will boost the number of foreign students learning English in Ireland and provide opportunities for business people already travelling to Britain to visit the country.

Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar said the visa waiver scheme showed the Government was serious about supporting the tourism sector.

Mr Varadkar said there were already signs of recovery in the tourism market, with year-on-year growth of 8.6 per cent in visitor numbers in the first quarter of the year. He said there had also been a 32 per cent increase in visa applications from China.