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Cablegate: Extending Niv Visa Reciprocity to Five Years For

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001620

SIPDIS

STATE FOR CA/VO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS CMGT ETRD CE
SUBJECT: EXTENDING NIV VISA RECIPROCITY TO FIVE YEARS FOR
SRI LANKAN PASSPORT HOLDERS

1. SUMMARY: The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) is expected
to propose shortly a significant change to non-resident
visas offered to U.S. citizens. They are prepared to
implement a five year multiple entry non-resident visa, for
all types of non-resident travel to Sri Lanka. The fee for
this visa will be $100. Post requests permission, once the
proposal receives final GOSL approval, to reciprocate in
offering 5 year multiple entry visas for most non-immigrant
visa (NIV) categories and to discontinue charging a $95
issuance fee. END SUMMARY

2. The GOSL currently has two types of visas, resident and
non-resident. Non-resident visas are divided into business
and leisure categories. Non-resident tourist visas are good
for 30 days and are issued on arrival at point of entry.
Currently, to stay beyond 30 days for any purpose, you must
apply and be approved for a resident visa. The resident
visas can last anywhere from 90 to 365 days depending on the
purpose of the stay and financial capacity of the applicant.
The resident visas cost approximately $274. Travelers
entering for temporary business purposes are required to
have a visa prior to entering the country. Non-resident
business visas are generally single entry, short validity
visas. Most U.S. businesspeople staying less than 30 days
are advised by Sri Lankan authorities to illegally enter as
tourists. However, they can potentially face immigration
problems if extending their stay. Due to these visa terms,
it was determined in May 2001 that validity periods of most
U.S. NIV classes would be reduced from 5 year multiples to
one year multiples and that a $95 issuance fee would be
charged. The change was approved and implemented.

3. Since May of 2001, there have been significant changes in
the number of NIV interviews required at post. As of April
2003, post has gone to a 100% interview policy, up from
approximately 65%. In addition to the normal volume of new
visa applicants, we are experiencing regular travelers to
the U.S. applying every year for visa renewals as their
previous 5 year multiple visas are expiring. Due to
increasing NIV application and interview volume this summer,
the waiting periods for appointments increased
substantially, from a maximum of 3 weeks in 2003 to an
average of 6-8 weeks in 2004. The GOSL is under pressure
from their business community to improve the terms of U.S.
NIVs offered to Sri Lankans.

4. Earlier this year, Post and the GOSL began visa
reciprocity discussions with the intention of increasing
visa's validity periods for Sri Lankans traveling to the
U.S. and vice versa. On July 23rd, 2004 post received a
verbal proposal from the two top officials in the Department
of Immigration and Emigration: Mr. E. Jinadasa, Controller
of Immigration and Emigration and Mr. H. Wijeratne, Deputy
Controller for Visas. A written proposal with the same
terms was delivered to the Embassy on July 27th.

5. The GOSL is now tentatively proposing a significant
change to the non-resident visas offered to U.S. citizens.
In addition to maintaining the 30 day tourist visa on
arrival, they propose to implement a 5 year multiple entry
non-resident visa, for all types of non-resident travel to
Sri Lanka. Entries under the 5 year multiple visa will be
for 6 months rather than 30 days. The fee for the 5 year
multiple visa will be $100 and charged only if the visa is
approved. U.S. citizens may still enter on a tourist 30 day
visa issued on arrival. Business travelers would need to
apply for the 5 year multiple visa in advance of travel.
U.S. citizens will be able to apply for the 5 year multiple
visas in advance of travel through the Sri Lankan Embassy in
Washington or one of their consulates in the U.S. They will
also be allowed to apply for a 5 year multiple visa within
30 days of entering Sri Lanka, to include staying an
additional 60 days to process the visa and adjust status to
the 6 months entry while in country. For tourists wishing
to stay longer than 30 days and business travelers there are
distinct advantages in cost and convenience in the new visa
regime.

6. This draft Sri Lankan proposal must be approved by the
MFA and the Ministry of Public Security, Law and Order
(MPSLO). (The MPSLO supervises the Department of Immigration
and Emigration.) We understand that both ministries endorse
the new visa scheme. An MFA official told us September 27
that the proposal will go to the Cabinet for approval
probably next week.

7. If the new visa regime is approved by the Cabinet, Post
would enthusiastically endorse upgrading Sri Lankan visa
reciprocity to 5 year multiple entry for all appropriate NIV
classifications. We would also support the discontinuation
of the $95 issuance fee for NIVs to Sri Lankan nationals.
Post believes that these changes would reciprocate the new
Sri Lankan 5 year visa regime. In addition, Post supports
changing the reciprocity schedule for operational and public
relations reasons. Issuance of longer validity visas will
help reduce application numbers in FY 2005 and might keep
the workload in Colombo manageable with current staffing
levels. Post will nearly eliminate cash collection in the
section, as all application fees are paid with bank drafts.
Issuance fees, which would be eliminated, are currently paid
in cash at the consular section. Elimination of issuance
fees will reduce 10-15 hours per week of cashier workload
allowing the Cashier/ACS FSN to devote significantly more
time to his ACS outreach and contingency preparations. We
will be sending an "open for business" message to the Sri
Lankan business community, which will help advance U.S.
commercial interests. The possibility of 5 year validity
U.S. visas is enthusiastically supported by the local
American Chamber of Commerce.

LUNSTEAD

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