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Visa Facility Under Threat Again

Government Moving to Revamp Visa Free Facility for 48 Countries.

Bali News:
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Numerous reports in local press indicate that the Government is preparing a major shake up in the current policy that makes Indonesia visa free for visitors from 48 countries, allowing non-extendable stays of 2 month's duration. Reports from Jakarta indicate that an interdepartmental government team has already been formed to suggest changes to the policy and eventual implementory steps predicted to occur in July of 2002.

How widespread the changes in the current policy will be are a matter of great speculation, but are expected to include a reduction in the number of countries granted visa free facilities and a complete or partial elimination of the current facility replaced with a US$ 50 visa-fee payable on arrival.

Minister of Culture and Tourism, I Gede Ardika has confirmed the establishment of the technical team to review the issue, but emphasized that no decision has yet been made on the number of countries nationals that will be affected by any changes. The Minister did hint that those countries that have failed to optimize the use of the visa free facility may be in jeopardy of losing it and that the length of stay granted is under review on a country-by-country basis. Some nations currently granted 60 day stay permits may receive only 30 or 14 days under the policy changes now under discussion.

Local press reports quote high-ranking government officials as stating the new policy will be "more restrictive and reciprocal" than the current arrangement. The new policy is expected to allow visa-free visits by citizens of ASEAN nations, reduce from 48 to 9 the number of countries extended visa-free entry, reduce the length of those visas to 30 days, and charge a $50 landing fee to help raise state revenues.

A similar change in policy suggested two years ago was widely criticized in Bali's tourism circles, fearful of the negative impact on national tourism and potential abuse invited by collecting cash for visas as tourists pass through the nation's international gateways. A world-wide survey commissioned at that time by the PATA Bali & Nusa Tenggara Chapter demonstrated that major travel wholesalers predicted drops of 30-50% in the number of visitors sent to Indonesia should the visa-free facility be removed.

Reacting to the latest wave of proposed changes in visa policy, Mr. Pontjo Sutowo, the Chairman of the Indonesian Tourism Think Tank (MPI), said the proposed changes underline the government's ambivalence towards national tourism and "opens the opportunity for other nations to ask 'what's going on in Indonesia?'"

The current disarray and controversy prevalents among tourism associations in Bali are fueling concerns that Bali tourism will be unable to organize an opposition to the proposed changes losing the limited opportunity to be heard during the deliberations currently underway in Jakarta.

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