No more free visa extensions: Russian, Ukrainian tourists can apply for visas or go back

The government’s decision to cancel a free visa facility granted to Russians and Ukrainians who have remained in Sri Lanka since February 2022 has not been reversed, Public Security Minister Tiran Alles confirmed this week.

“Either they apply for a visa or they go back,” he told the Sunday Times. “They will not receive free visas anymore.”

In March 2022, Sri Lanka’s cabinet approved a proposal by the Tourism Minister to permit free visa extensions to Ukrainian and Russian tourists who were holidaying in the country when the war broke out back home. At the time, there were 11,463 Russians and 3,993 Ukrainians, according to published reports.

In 2023, this facility was extended for another year—till February 22, 2024. As it was about to expire, Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration and Emigration wrote separately to the Tourism Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their opinions on whether the privilege should be further extended. These letters were dated February 1, 2024.

There was no objection from the ministries for the free visas to be discontinued as, although the conflict was continuing, there were flights to and from Russia and Ukraine, with tourists from these countries entering and departing Sri Lanka regularly.

As a result, the Immigration Department wrote to the Tourism Ministry Secretary this week, requesting that he notify the relevant Ukrainian and Russian tourists about the new rule. The letter stated that it was no longer necessary to keep extending their visas without the requisite fees or penalties for overstaying.

“Therefore, Russian and Ukrainian tourists belonging to the above categories have been given 14 days from 2024/02/23 to 2024/03/07 to leave this country, and it is kindly notified that this period will no longer be extended,” it said.

However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office reacted when the news was published in the Sunday Times by claiming there had been no official decision to cancel this facility and that the President had ordered an investigation into the notification issued to Russian and Ukrainian tourists “without prior Cabinet approval, requiring them to leave within 14 days”.

Yesterday, Minister Alles said, “The President didn’t say it (the free visa facility) was withdrawn. The President’s Office asked for an inquiry into why they were asked to leave in 14 days. That was wrong. We can’t tell them to leave the country in 14 days. They can either leave or apply for a visa

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