East Africa Pushing For Common Tourist Visa, Passport By 2014

East Africa Pushing For Common Tourist Visa, Passport By 2014

Security concerns, poor infrastructure and disagreements over fee sharing have delayed plans to implement common regional tourist visas and common passports for five East African Community member countries, according to a report in AllAfrica.

After multiple delays, and rescheduled – again – to begin this year, the rollout has been postponed to July 2014. The decision has been received with mixed reaction.

Tour operators are looking forward to the changes, hoping they will boost tourism and attract more visitors to East Africa by simplifying things for travelers.

“Visa formalities where tourists have been forced to do lots of paper work anytime they are going through our borders has been demanding and discouraging,” said Kenya Tourism Federation CEO Agatha Juma. The changes should also help lure tourists from abroad because they would be able to travel throughout East Africa on one visa, Juma said.

But Julius Karanja, a tour operator with Nairobi-based Twiga Tours, which offers luxury safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, is skeptical the East African Community will meet its deadline.

“We have heard such promises before, and I doubt if they will be achieved so that we can get rid of (these) systems that ought to have been eliminated four years ago,” he said, according to the AllAfrica report.

Tourism officials from five East African Community member states -Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – met in Burundi July 6 to outline new targets and to form a task force to oversee implementation of the new protocols.

Plans for common passports and visas have been in the works since 2005, but member countries needed time to align their immigration laws and put in place technology to integrate their information network systems, said Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku.

“This will help harmonize our immigration management systems and help network with border points and embassies of all the member states, Lenku said.

The unified system will allow the East African Community to share information about people travelling to countries in the region and prevent criminals from crossing from one country to another, he said. Negotiations over visa procedures and fee structures are ongoing.

July 31 is the design deadline for the future travel document. Members agreed the passports will borrow colors of the East African Community flag. They will also be embedded with a microchip for storing biometric data.

East African Community members currently issue temporary passports for travel within the region. Holders can get individual visas for each country that must be renewed every six months.