Astana is abolishing visa requirements for citizens of 10 countries with a strong track record of investing in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced.
The visa-free countries are France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Nazarbayev told a June 12 gathering of the Foreign Investors Council at the lake resort of Burabay, to the north of Astana.
The visa-free system is expected to go into effect on July 15 and initially be in force for a pilot period of one year, Rapil Zhoshibayev, the deputy foreign minister, later explained. Citizens of 10 designated countries can stay in Kazakhstan without visas for 15 days; anyone needing to stay longer would be required to apply for business or investor visas.
Astana is also mulling simplifying the visa process with the introduction of online applications for tourists from China, India and Middle Eastern states, Aset Ishekeshev, the minister of industry and new technologies, announced on June 16.
The visa-free regime is part of a package of investment perks that Nazarbayev signed into law on June 12, which also includes tax breaks.
The perks are part of a push by Astana to attract investment, especially outside the extractive sectors. They are part of the government’s strategy to diversify the economy away from oil and gas, upon which it is heavily reliant at present.
The new perks are offered only to investors putting at least $20 million dollars into projects in non-extractive sectors such as manufacturing and processing.
Kazakhstan has posted steady economic growth in recent years, last year recording a 6-percent rise in GDP. Yet Astana is conscious of the need to attract more investment to keep powering the economy – especially as a slowdown in Russia, Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, threatens to have an impact. In May, Kayrat Kelimbetov, the National Bank chief, acknowledged that the government had “qualms” about the effect on Kazakhstan’s economy of sanctions against Moscow.
Astana’s ambitious economic performance targets are also under threat from ongoing delays at the super-giant Kashagan oilfield, which is now not expected to start pumping oil until the end of 2015 at the earliest.