As part of efforts to promote tourism and attract foreign direct investment, the government of Sierra Leone has changed its visa policy.
The West African country has rolled out a visa-on-arrival regime for all Africans entering the country. This means that Africans do not necessarily need to apply for visas before flying into the country.
A statement by the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Internal Affairs said the new policy offers visa-free entry for citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
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African Union (AU) citizens will, however, pay a $25 fee to receive a visa-on-arrival while all other countries will pay a visa fee of $80.
Those other countries include the United States, United Kingdom, European Union member states and citizens of BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“This is an indication that the new direction is poised to take the country to another level and our latest step in making the country attractive to tourists and foreign investors,” said Sierra Leone’s Information Minister, Mohamed Rahman Swaray.
The Sierra Leone government is losing an estimated $100 million in revenue every year due to very low tourist numbers, a report by thesierraleonetelegraph.com said.
The report blamed the situation on the “very high cost of flying to the country, as well as the exorbitant cost of hotel accommodation in most of the tourist resorts.”
Experts are hoping that the new visa policy will enable more people to travel to the country to boost tourism.
Visa-free travel for Africans in Africa is yet to fully take effect even though it was expected to begin in 2018.
The idea of having an African passport has not caught on with many countries on the continent due to fears of illegal immigration, smuggling, a spread of diseases, terrorism and the loss of local job markets, among others.
Despite a roadmap by the African Union (AU) to ensure a visa-free travel for Africans in Africa by 2020, Seychelles is the only country where visa-free travel is open to all Africans, as well as, to citizens of every nation, though Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius, Benin and Kenya have all loosened travel restrictions for other African nationals.
Following an announcement by South Africa last October that it was relaxing its travel rules to revive its economy, Ethiopia followed suit, saying that it will introduce a visa-on-arrival regime for all Africans entering the country.
Currently, citizens of African countries still need a visa to travel to more than half of the continent’s 54 countries.
“The 2016 analysis of Africa’s visa policy regimes demonstrated that on average Africans needed visas at departure to travel to 54% of other African countries (from 55% in 2015); could get visas on arrival in only 24% (from 25% in 2015); and do not need visas to travel to just 22% (from 20% in 2015).”
The AU launched an African passport in 2016 that will ultimately replace individual nations’ passport but it is currently available to senior diplomats and top officials of the AU.
The AU would want an Africa in which the continent’s 1.2 billion will require no visas to travel to enhance prospects for intracontinental trade, just like the European Union, but this does not seem to be happening soon due to the challenges mentioned above.
For now, a visa on arrival which includes authorization to stay for up to 90 days is the norm and for countries like Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya who have adopted this, there has been an increase in African visitors and overall investment.