In a setback to Indian travellers, Hong Kong has withdrawn the visa-free entry facility for Indians and they will now have to complete a pre-arrival registration from January. There is also some good news in store — Thailand has halved the visa on arrival fees for Indian tourists.
"The pre-arrival registration for Indian nationals will be implemented from 23 January, 2017. The online service for it is now open," the Hong Kong immigration department said in an announcement on its official website.
"Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete pre-arrival registration online before they can visit or transit the HKSAR visa-free (if seeking to enter the HKSAR during transit). Pre-arrival registration is not required for Indian nationals in direct transit by air and not leaving the airport transit area," it said.
This is a major set back for over half a million Indians who visit Hong Kong for business, trade and holidays.
Till now Hong Kong, which is now a Special Administrative Region of China, has permitted Indians to enter with valid passport for a period up to 14 days without a visa.
Indian officials say that Hong Kong is using the asylum seekers as a pretext to deny the visa-free entry to Indians who are one of the largest spenders contributing to the local economy.
There is also concern whether the move is being brought about by Hong Kong due to pressure from China.
For Indians visiting Thailand, the visa on arrival fees will now be 1,000 Baht (about Rs 2,000). The change was announced less than two months after visa fees was increased to 2,000 Baht on 27 September.
Thailand's economy relies heavily on foreign tourists. The move is intended to boost tourist arrivals, which is a key economic engine for the country.
"The fees will be cut to 1,000 Baht," the Thailand Tourism Ministry announced.
Thailand currently offers visa on arrival for citizens of India, Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet extended to 10 years from one the long-stay visa for foreigners aged 50 or more.
However, they must report to immigration police every 90 days.
The visa will be valid initially for five years and could be renewed for another five, Col Apisit Chaiyanuwat, vice-minister at the Prime Minister's Office, said.
The visa fee was set at 10,000 Baht (Rs 20,000), he said.
Apart from the age requirement, the visa requires eligible foreigners to have a monthly salary of at least 100,000 Baht or a bank deposit of at least 3 million Baht, to be maintained for at least one year after receiving the visa.
Besides, they must have health insurance coverage for at least $1,000 for outpatient care and $10,000 or more for inpatient care per policy per year.
The revised rule aimed to promote medical and wellness tourism in line with the government's policy.
Indians can avail of visa on arrival facility in 43 countries, barring Hong Kong. Some of the countries that allow Indians to get a visa on arrival are Indonesia, Maldives and Cambodia in Asia; Mauritius and Seychelles in Africa; Ecuador in South America; Georgia and Macedonia in Europe and several tiny islands in the Atlantic and Pacific.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Dec 21, 2016 18:30:25 IST