Burma introduces visa on arrival

The Burmese government has begun issuing visas on arrival for all nationalities at Rangoon and Mandalay international airports, immigration officials say.

The initiative began on 1 May, according to an official in Rangoon. Staff at the Myanmar Hotel and Tourism Enterprise’s information desk at Rangoon’s international airport said however that those who are blacklisted by the Burmese government will still be denied the visa.

“There is a restriction,” he said. “[Visa applicants] should not be on the blacklist; this will be check upon arrival at the airports. There will also be some questioning. A return ticket, sufficient amount of money and an address of the place staying also need to be declared. These are the basic requirements,” said the official.

There are different types of visas on arrival: the tourist visa for $US30 which grants 28 days to stay and cannot be extended; the business visa for $US40 for 70 days stay in the country, which can be extended; the visa for “social reasons” at $US40 for 28 days which allows extension, and the transit visa on arrival, which costs $US18 for 24 hours stay.

The Myanmar Tourism Entrepreneurs Association, which first called for use of the visa-on-arrival in 2008, has speculated there will be more tourists in Burma with the new system, which mimics that of other countries.

Burma’s tourism industry has seen a decline since the September 2007 monk-led uprising, as well as cyclone Nargis in 2008 May. The industry was also hit by the blockade of Bangkok airport in December 2008 and the global economic recession.

The Burmese government has in the past issued visas on arrival but this is the first time that it is open to all nationalities. Previously it had been available only to countries where there was no Burmese embassy so was only attainable via a proxy company.

The widely publicised boycott of tourism in Burma has impacted on the amount of foreigners who visit the country, which ranks lower than the majority of other Southeast Asian countries. Some 250,000 tourists visit Burma annually, compared to around 14 million in Thailand.

According to Tourism Concern, Burma earns around $US100 million annually from tourism; critics argue that the vast majority of the money goes to the ruling junta, which is known to use forced labour in the construction of hotels and resorts.

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