Central Asia has long been associated with difficult border crossings and onerous visa requirements. But now three states are moving to abolish visas for citizens of developed countries in a bid to boost tourism, local media reports say.
Kyrgyzstan became the latest country to take steps to ease visa requirements with a parliamentary vote on June 14 in favor of a bill allowing citizens of 44 states visa-free entry for 60 days, the K.News website reported.
If President Almazbek Atambayev signs the bill into law, citizens from the United States and Canada, EU member states and some Middle Eastern countries will be able to visit Kyrgyzstan without the traditional visa hassle.
The parliament of neighboring Tajikistan last month also voted to lift visa requirements for US and EU nationals and citizens from some Southeast Asian states, Asia-Plus reported. If approved by President Emomali Rakhmon, this would absolve visitors of the need to obtain an invitation and apply for a visa in advance.
Kazakhstan is also mulling an easing of procedures, with plans afoot to allow citizens from the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (including the United States, Canada, EU countries, Australia and New Zealand) visa-free travel for 15 days, reports Tengri News.
Officials are considering visa-free travel for an experimental period beginning July 1 and ending October 31. Currently, tourists from developed countries must obtain visas from embassies in advance but are not required to produce an invitation.
One argument in favor of visa-free travel has been the amount of money that could end up in state coffers from the expected influx of tourists.
An official from Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry told the KazTag news agency that each tourist spends up to $1,000 and creates jobs for Kazakh citizens.
Bishkek also hopes for a boost in visitors to view its rugged and beautiful scenery. Although visitors from developed states can already obtain tourist visas at Bishkek's airport without producing invitations from tour companies, many were put off by political and ethnic violence in 2010. Moreover, visas are not available at land borders.
No plans for visa-free travel have been announced by Central Asian neighbors Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both of which have strict regulations for foreign visitors and frequently reject visa applications without providing a reason.