On 22 November The National Assembly agreed to pilot a system for granting electronic visas, known as e-visas, for foreigners wishing to enter Vietnam. Passport-holders from all nations will be able to apply for visas online from January 1, 2017.
Visas will be issued within three days – an improvement on the current processing time of one week – and will be valid for 30 days. The pilot test for the online system will run for two years. E-visas will be available from the website of the Ministry of Public Security’s Vietnam Immigration Department. Payment of visa fees can be made via bank transfer. This will guarantee transparency and convenience, as well as minimise intermediate costs. Notably, letters of guarantee or invitations will no longer be required under the new online visa application system.
Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, commented, “The granting of e-visas is considered a significant breakthrough, making it easier for Vietnam to attract more foreign tourists.”
Nguyen Quoc Binh, a National Assembly member representing Hanoi, hailed the move, saying that many nations have applied e-visas for years, and the number of foreign tourists they have attracted has soared as a result.
For example, since India’s application of e-visas in November 2014, the number of foreign tourist arrivals has increased tenfold. Currently, India accepts e-visas for citizens from 150 nations, a huge increase from the initial number of just 40.
Currently, when foreign tourists apply for visas for Vietnam, they usually have to be guaranteed by travel firms. “With e-visas tourists can apply directly to the state’s visa licensing agencies. This will save them money and help make Vietnam a more tourist- friendly country,” said Nguyen Van Tuan, director of Nam Phuc Travel Company. However, the National Assembly’s Committee for Defense and Security warned the country should exercise caution in granting e-visas for foreign citizens.
“The current global situation remains complicated and unpredictable,” said the committee’s chairman Vo Trong Viet. “Terrorist organisations tend to take advantage of loopholes in immigration management in order to implement terrorist actions.”
According to Viet, e-visas should be piloted for citizens from nations that have traditional relationships with Vietnam, and that have signed diplomatic treaties based on a reciprocal arrangement. After the pilot, this can be extended to citizens from other nations. Over the past few years, Vietnam has loosened its visa requirements for foreign citizens. In April this year, the government began granting multi-entry one-year visas to US citizens entering Vietnam for business or travel. Prior to this, the longest tourist visa US citizens could be granted was three months.
In May 2015, the government increased the visa-exempt duration for citizens from the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, from 15 days to 30 days. This policy will be applied for at least five years, whereas the previous exemption had only a one-year run.
Tran Thi Viet Huong, Director of marketing department, Vietravel: E-visas are already available for a number of Asian countries so the process is familiar to many international tourists. The application of e-visas in Vietnam will help to attract foreign tourists to the country in 2017. Granting e-visas will save time and work as well as creating a user-friendly system in the era of digital technology, when transactions are increasingly being carried out using information technology. Vietravel’s international visitors in the first half of 2016 increased steadily to 25,000, almost double the number from the same period last year. Tourists coming from Europe increased by 369 per cent over the last year while the number from China was 312 per cent higher than last year. This increase can be attributed in part to the steady recovery of the global economy as well as the positive effect of the visa exemption applied to some European countries.
However in order to develop a professional tourism industry, Vietnam needs to focus on some priority areas, such as improving tourism infrastructure; diversifying entertainment activities; increasing the professionalism of tourism services; and producing higher quality tourism products, as well as enhancing the identity of Vietnam’s tourism, especially in the culinary field. Our cuisine is diverse, abundant, unique and healthy, made with fresh natural ingredients, low in fat and with plentiful vegetables, herbs and spices. Currently Vietravel is working with experts to establish the Vietnam Culinary Culture association, aiming to more effectively promote Vietnam’s tourism to the world.
Hoang Nuong, General manager of Tonkin Cruises Halong Bay: Establishing an e-visa system for Vietnam will help promote tourism. However, certain restrictions must also be put in place to ensure the country remains a safe destination for tourists. The new policy will help attract foreigners to Vietnam. Local tourism authorities should strictly control the prices and operation of tourism suppliers, including hotels, resorts, restaurants and travel agencies, to create fair competition and a professional market, ensuring the country maintains a good reputation and visitors have a positive experience.
By Khoi Nguyen