By EDGAR R. BATTE
Uganda has reduced the visa fees for single entry into the country effective July 22 to $50. The recent increase of the visa charge from $50 to $100 had attracted pleas for a reversal from stakeholders in the sector as it was bound to make Uganda a more expensive destination. Currently, Kenya charges $50 while Rwanda charges $30 for the same visas.
"Even after several lobbying and advocacy done by the private sector to reduce the cost of the visa, the new financial budget hadn't take into account this, making Uganda once again an expensive destination," Carmen Nibigira, coordinator of the East African Tourism Platform says.
In a letter to the Minister of Finance, Mr Matia Kasaija, president of the Uganda Tourism Association, Mr Boniface Byamukama, had implored the minister to have visa fees reduced because it would makes Uganda a very expensive and less attractive destination.
Byamukama explains that the impression created in the minds of the travellers is negative and yet perception is a huge influencing factor and this greatly affects a traveller's choice of destination.
Affecting bilateral agreements
He adds, "Comparatively like Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, Foreign Nationals wishing to obtain a Rwandan visa pay US$30. In view of bilateral agreements, nationals of specific countries are permitted to visit Rwanda without a visa for a period of up to 90 days. Kenyan visa fee is $50."According to Babara Adoso, president of Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), the immigration directorate needs to be sensitised more and probably receive some training in line with the manner of handling the East Africa Visa.
"We are a law-enforcement agency. When the visa fees were revised upwards, we saw it as an anomaly. We went to Ministry of Finance to inquire and we were told that it was a directive from parliament and they could not do much about changing the fees. It is unfair to charge the same fee to someone coming into Uganda for a single entry with another who is paying for 'multiple entry'," argued Mr Wilberforce Ngonde, assistant commissioner for immigration, during a meeting with industry stakeholders, last Wednesday.
Uganda's policy is to encourage promotion of tourism. "But how many embassies do we have internationally? There are no immigration offices at the embassies. That is why we introduced the online platform for visa platform (E-Visa)," the commissioner explains.
According to Jacob Siminyu, the Ministry of Internal Affairs Public Relations Officer (PRO), besides promoting tourism, the online platform will help in promoting investment, enhance service delivery and promote security since it will help immigration cross-check information with different data bases and security agencies to make sure people coming into Uganda do not pose any security risk.
"We have so far issued about 6, 000 applications (as of last Monday). We have capacity to process a visa in one day though our official time line is two to three days," Siminyu adds.
According to a press statement from Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the Government of Uganda introduced the online visa application system with effect from July 1, 2016. "All persons intending to come to Uganda for holiday, tourism, business, study, visit, medical are required to apply and obtain a visa online. Applications should be filled at the following link: https://visas.immigration.go.ug," the statement explains in part. However, some complaints have since been registered that the website on which tourists should access visa application has reportedly been down.
Siminyu says that they have not experienced any such challenges and adds that the problem tourists face is not adhering to time. "The system is time-sensitive. It is not a process you can abandon and do something else. You need to pay attention to it for about 20 straight minutes. It is advisable that you have all the necessary documents before starting to apply for a permit or visas," the ministry's publicist explains. Through the month of July, it will still be possible to get visas on arrival. However, the traveller will have to go through the electronic application process at the port of entry.
When an applicant starts the process, their application will be sent electronically through the email provided. If approved, an approval letter will be sent as an attachment to the email provided. The type of visas will include multiple-entry, diplomatic and official, ordinary, East Africa Tourist Visa (multiple entry valid for 90 days to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda) and transit visas.
Siminyu explains that a visitor is required to upload clear copies of current passport, Yellow fever certificate and Passport photo. On completion of the online application, one will receive a barcoded email notification. They will be required to print out the email and bring it with them to Uganda. Upon arrival at any border (entry point), they must present the barcoded email. The immigration officer will scan the barcode, take your fingerprints and photo and ask for the $100 cash payment for the visa.
Notably, Uganda only accepts USD bills dated 2006 or newer and in excellent condition. A visa sticker will be printed with your photo and placed in your passport. But tourism stakeholders feel the visa fees are too high and making business bad.