ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday launched the country’s innovative online visa system, making it easy for the citizens of 175 countries to get the visa from their home in a bid to boost tourism and business.
The online visa system has initially been launched for China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Malaysia.
While addressing the gathering, the prime minister reminded that Pakistan had seen tough times in its efforts to combat terrorism but the situation was different today. He gave the credit to the security forces and intelligence agencies.
“This is a first step and reflective of the confidence of the country as it opens its doors for investors, entrepreneurs, tourists and students; inviting them to come to visit Pakistan,” he told a gathering comprising a large number of diplomats here at the auditorium of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The prime minister earlier launched a portal with the press of a button that would allow travellers to submit their details, documents and make online payment to get the visa in seven to ten days and said the new system had done away with the earlier mind-set which discouraged the foreigners to visit Pakistan.
Quoting a Chinese saying, “To take a thousand mile journey, you have to take a first step,” Imran said that Pakistan had rich cultural heritage, world’s highest peaks, diversity of landscape, four seasons, desert and beaches.
“We have double the size of land in Northern Areas than Switzerland with bewitching beauty,” he said and recalled how his teacher Major (retired) Geoffrey Douglas Langlands instilled in him the love of trekking and appreciation of natural beauty of the country.
The prime minister said that Pakistan had large areas of hidden beauty and pointed out that a tourism task force had been constituted that would also focus on eco and religious tourism.
Mentioning the importance of religious tourism, he said Pakistan had sacred Buddhist sites, besides those for Sikhs, Hindus and the Sufis. He called for urgent measures to boost beach tourism and preservation of old cities like Peshawar, Lahore, Multan and others.
The new system has simplified the processing of visa to “promote tourism and generate economic activity” and would also make it easy for citizens of 96 countries to get a work visa for business purpose.
The duration of diplomatic and student visas has been extended, however the visa for religious purpose will remain valid for 45 days.
A visa-on-arrival facility has been introduced for tourists of 50 countries, besides a business visa-on-arrival facility extended for citizens of 96 countries.
The visa-on-arrival facility will also be provided to British and American citizens.
The prime minister said religious tourism was another major area that needed to be explored. He said religious sites of Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Sufism in the country could attract a large number of visitors from across the world.
Prior to his speech, he distributed shields among the core team members who made the launch possible.
Among the recipients were Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, State Interior Minister Shahryar Khan Afridi, Interior Secretary Azam Suleman Khan, Foreign Secretary Ms. Tehmina Janjua, and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) Chairman Usman Mobin Yousaf.
Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the launch of online visa facility was a major step towards Naya Pakistan. He said the decision made under the chairmanship of prime minister was a reflection that Pakistan was opening its doors to the world.
Earlier, highlighting major features of the new visa policy, Shahryar Khan Afridi said multiple visas to nationals of 96 countries will be granted within 24 hours of applying.
He said the foreign nationals of Indian origin will also be allowed to avail themselves of the visa facility on arrival for religious tourism. He said nationals of UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain among others will be given multiple visas.
In a related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted the National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) with a view to promoting tourism and boosting coordination among the federating units.
A notification said in super-session of the Cabinet Division’s notification of even number on March 12, 2019, the prime minister was pleased to constitute the National Tourism Coordination Board with Acting Chairman Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari till appointment of a regular incumbent.