Rwanda pushes for single EAC tourist visa

Rwandan delegates at a regional technical meeting in Kigali are pushing for the waiver of tourist fees under the single visa system that Kenya and Uganda have shared sentiments for.
Tourists trekking Nyungwe Park . The New Times/ File.
Tourists trekking Nyungwe Park . The New Times/ File.

Rwandan delegates at a regional technical meeting in Kigali are pushing for the waiver of tourist fees under the single visa system that Kenya and Uganda have shared sentiments for.

The delegation, during the meeting of the three EAC partner states, said the move would increase the flow of tourists in the region.

By implication, if Rwanda’s position is adopted, a tourist would only pay a single visa fee upon entry in one country and automatically access the others without paying any additional fee.

Using identity cards

The tripartite meeting discussed the implementation of the proposed single visa and use of identity cards as travel documents within the three countries, among others.

“Tourism will definitely increase significantly once this is implemented. The fee is an impediment to tourists,” said Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism and conservation at Rwanda Development Board.

With this, Rwandan participants suggested that tourism visa regimes be harmonised with the differences seen as another stumbling block to the industry. 

The three countries have different visa regimes with fee ranging from $5-50 for single entry and $50-100 for a multiple entry visas.

However, officials from the other two countries maintained that the single visa should be introduced, but tourists pay the fees upon entry into any of the member country, saying the fee is a source of national revenue that should not be compromised. 

Although all EAC partner states had previously shown interest in fast-tracking the implementation of the single visa, it has been marred by setbacks, including lack of harmonised visa regimes, lack of a mechanism for sharing the financial cost of administering the single tourist visa and sharing the revenues collected, as well as the poorly developed ICT infrastructure at national level to facilitate connectivity of the entry/exit points, among others.

The single visa had earlier been envisaged to be in operation by July, last year.

Grace Awulo, the acting head of tourism in Uganda, said there was no need of waiving the visa fees since it was regarded as source of revenue for individual partner states.

“Why should it be removed? You can’t convince me that a tourist from, say, the UK or US can fail to raise this fee. It should remain a source of revenue for our countries,” Awulo said on the sidelines of the meeting.

She said there was a need of harmonising national legislations to help in proper guidance of the visa before it is modified among the three countries.

Kenya’s director of immigration service Jane Waikenda, however, said it was still a proposal, adding that she was optimistic the meeting would come up with final recommendations that would be presented to higher authorities.

“Visa fee is a source of revenue, but we are still discussing,” Waikenda said.

Line ministers to discuss

The meeting preceded the one for line ministers, which takes place today to consider the recommendations made. 

Kenyan delegates proposed a provision on sharing intelligence information to avoid illegal immigrants who could view the facility as an opportunity to carry out subversive activities.

Meanwhile, Anaclet Kalibata, the director-general of Immigration and Emigration, said the project on the use of identity cards at border points should be fast-tracked.

Kalibata said this is one of the most significant initiatives from which citizens of partner state would benefit.

“Challenges have been identified but we should come up with remedies and simplify them in a way that won’t compromise the principle of facilitating the free movement of our people,” Kalibata said.

Tourism in East Africa is among the highest earners, with enormous employment opportunities.

Currently, tourism is Rwanda’s top foreign exchange earner, after it fetched about Rwf178 billion last year. So far, this year, Rwanda Development Board says the sector has recorded investments worth $32.8 million.

The country’s major tourist attractions are Mountain gorillas, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks, museums, Lake Kivu, bird watching, culture, Congo Nile Trail, among others.

It is expected that the projected single visa would save potential tourists time and the rigorous process of having to jump from one embassy to the other to apply for different visas to travel across the East African region.

Rwanda was tasked to spearhead the establishment of a single visa in a recent Heads of State meeting in Entebbe, Uganda.

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