Chiangrai Times – A single visa for Thailand and Cambodia will be the test phase of a wider project that will offer a single visa for five of the ASEAN nations located in the lower Mekong River basin.
Suggestions that Thailand has ducked out of the five country single visa project are incorrect. Reliable industry sources confirmed Thailand and Cambodia were selected to test the system and generate feedback that will be evaluated and lead to a wider application including other Mekong Region neighbours, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Tourism Council of Thailand vice president, Thanate Vorasaran, told reporters, Thursday, that a single visa for travel between Thailand and Cambodia was part of an agreement signed in 2007 and was specifically identified as a pilot project.
According to the plan, a tourist obtains a visa at either the embassy of Thailand or Cambodia (first port of call) and the visa is then valid for visits to both countries.
The scheme is irrelevant to nationalities that already have visa-free entry for either Thailand or Cambodia, but it will assist those who would normally need to apply for visas at both embassies before starting their trip to Southeast Asia.
“Once the project is launched, it will make it more convenient for tourists to travel between two countries if they need to apply for visas for both countries. However tourists have to pay a fee that covers entry into both countries.” Mr Thanate explained.
No decision has been made on the mechanics or processing for the much wider single visa covering all five countries of the lower Mekong River basin.
There has been talk of a visa covering four countries known as CLMV (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam). But the wider project that remains on the table also involves Thailand.
For the CLMV single visa, Mr Thanate said everyone would have to wait to see the outcome of the Thai-Cambodia project first.
“Although Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam tourism ministries made a statement to launch CLMV single visa earlier this month, it was just a declaration in terms of words and not based on the actual realities that exist.”
“Therefore, it was decided that the bilateral agreement on a single visa between Thailand and Cambodia was the first step and that would be the test case for further study.”
CLMV tourism ministers made the statement during a report on the outcome of their First Meeting of CLMV Tourism Ministers, 14 September, on the sidelines of the 8th International Travel Expo in Ho Chi Minh City.
One of the decisions was to invite Thailand to rejoin the group with the Minister of Tourism and Sports attending the next round of ministerial meetings in Ho Chi Minh City next year. Ministers of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam had their first joint meeting in 2011 and last month, in Ho Chi Minh City, Myanmar’s minister joined to extend the group to CLMV
“Those four countries will have to see how the single visa between Thailand and Cambodia goes and will assess the results for the first two countries before proceeding to the next level.
“The Thai-Cambodia single visa is only waiting for the governments to give the green light. It should be implemented by the end of this year,” he added.
Under the umbrella of ACMECS, the five countries — Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar have already agreed in principle on a single visa. It was initiated in 2005, under the concept known as “Five Countries, One Destination” and continues to be in a preparatory stage.
Comments that Thailand would lose valuable visa revenue if it joined the scheme are meaningless as most tourists already enjoy visa free entry to Thailand. Visa fee revenue hardly covers the administration costs involved.
However, as a founding member of the Five Countries, One Destination accord, if visitors were making Thailand the first port of call, Thai embassies could be used to process a visa covering the other four countries even if the traveller did not require a visa for Thailand. The single visa fee would be split between the countries that require a visa, while the issuing country would get an administration fee.
Revenue earned from visas is nominal and declining as countries add more nationalities to their visa-free list. What the single visa achieves is the convenience of a one-stop shop that saves the Mekong Region traveller time and expense linked to visiting more than one embassy.
Security rather than visa revenue is the main concern that is slowing the process at government level. Each country has its own priorities, watch lists and nationalities that are subject to a higher level of scrutiny.
The five countries allow visa-free entry for certain nationalities, but the lists differ by country and this complicates the single visa process.
Thailand allows as many as 45 nationalities visa-free entry. Vietnam is adding nations to its visa-free entry list, while Myanmar has the strictest policy requiring visas by all nationalities. Laos and Cambodia are both freeing up their visa requirements.
But all the five nations are worried about terrorism. Security issues have heightened in recent years and this gives Immigration Bureaus ammunition to call for stricter visa rules or voice objections to schemes that make entry easier.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Thai-Cambodia single visa has been processed, but needs the green light from both governments before it can be implemented even in a test phase. That green light has not blinked.