PAKISTAN (DAWN) - Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Friday said the government is introducing a "new revolutionary visa policy" to encourage tourism in the country.
He added that the incumbent PTI-led government wants tourism to become the foundation for change in Pakistan.
Chaudhry, who was briefing the press outside Parliament House in Islamabad on proposed changes to the country's visa regime, said that Malaysia earns roughly $20 billion annually through tourism ─ "and they only have beaches" ─ while Turkey earns $40bn.
Pakistan's visa regime "used to be open until about 1965 onwards", he said, adding that the country is "a paradise for tourism".
"We have mountain tourism, religious tourism, beach tourism, cities and huge food tourism. For this initiative, all agencies and departments put their heads together at the prime minister's suggestion," Chaudhry said.
The government has decided to provide the e-visa facility to 175 countries and visa on arrival to 50 countries, he said. Visa on arrival will also be provided to Indian-origin British and American citizens holding United States or United Kingdom passports.
Tour operators that are approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will now be allowed to bring groups of tourists to Pakistan, he said.
Additionally, the process for acquiring a work visa to nationals of 96 countries for business purposes has been eased, Chaudhry said, with applicants receiving their visa in 7-10 days after the Board of Investment issues them a letter.
The duration of diplomatic and student visas has been extended from one year to three years, and one year to two years, respectively, while a visa for religious purposes will remain valid for 45 days, the information minister added.
The processing of journalist visas will be done through the information ministry, Chaudhry said, and restrictions on journalists to limit their movements to just three cities have been lifted.
Foreign tourists will not require no-objection certificates (NOCs) to visit open cantonments, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan, Chaudhry said. "They can go anywhere in Pakistan, they don't need an NOC anymore."
"We want tourism to be promoted, to become the foundation for change in Pakistan," Chaudhry said.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader compared the incumbent government's term to the previous government, saying that it had "brought Pakistan back on the world map".
The PTI in its manifesto promised to develop 20 new tourist destinations during its tenure, at an average of four a year.
The tourism department intends to explore tourism potential in Kurram tribal district and the Samana hill station in Orakzai tribal district under the plan, and has also selected 25 areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where sites will be identified for the promotion of tourism.
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