Friday, 17 January, 2020

Iran to ease visa rules for Iraqi Kurdistan travelers

The Iranian consulate in Erbil will stop issuing printed visas in line with Tehran’s policy to no longer stamp the passports of foreign tourists arriving in the country. The move is expected to boost tourism for Iran as its economy struggles under ever expanding American sanctions.

“Print copies of visas have been done away with, meaning that now we will no longer waste a passport page by sticking visas on them,” Iranian Consul Murtaza Abadi told Rudaw on Friday.

“Entrance and exit stamps will no longer exist,” he added.

Last summer, Iran’s tourism department announced it would end the practice of stamping visitors’ passports in a bid to save the industry while the United States ramps up efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic.

The head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization, Ali Asghar Mounesan, said in August that the government would introduce protectionist measures to support the tourism industry. Police and the Foreign Ministry backed the move to stop putting entry and exit stamps into visitors’ passports.

The tour operators are worried about a possible downturn after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, re-imposed sanctions, and began pressuring allies to isolate Iran.

The number of European visitors subsequently declined slightly, said Mounesan.

With its regional and international relations under threat, Tehran is eager to find ways around the sanctions to promote trade and protect its economy.

The tourism industry contributed 7.3 percent of GDP in 2017 and was forecast to nearly double to 14 percent in 2018, according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council. More than 1.6 million Iranians are employed in the sector.

Iran’s energy sector, the main source of its revenue, is under increasing pressure. Promoting tourism and removing red tape is a move that tourists and industry workers alike will appreciate.

Kurdish travelers – who frequently cross the border for healthcare as well as general tourism – have taken advantage of Iran’s plunging currency. The number of travelers going through Bashmakh border gate increased by 26 percent last summer.

European Union passport holders can get a visa on arrival an Iran’s airport, though not at land crossings. British, American, and Canadians have to apply for visas in advance with the assistance of a tour organizer.

Visitors to Iran may have problems entering the United States. The former head of NATO, Javier Solana, had his online application rejected last June because of he had previously traveled to Iran.

Posting on Lonely Planet’s travelers forum Thorntree in late February, user Sebhoff detailed his experience: “Interestingly, you don’t get any proof of having a visa whatsoever. All you get is a receipt for the visa fee. No sticker, no stamps, no nothing. When you go through immigration, they electronically read your passport and then wave you through. My Malaysian wife – who doesn’t need a visa for up to 15 days – received a stamp in her passport.”

A total of 1,879 American tourists visited Iran between March 21 and December 21, 2018, according to the Foreign Ministry.

With its rich history, stunning art and architecture, and vibrant hospitality, Iran has a lot to offer visitors. The New York Times named Iran – a “Middle East jewel” – as one of its 52 places to visit in 2019.

Travelers applying for visas through the consulate in Erbil will receive confirmation they have been granted a visa, but nothing will be inserted into their passports, Abadi explained. They can also apply online.

The move mimics Israel’s policy of not stamping passports after travelers with Israeli visas in their passports were denied entry to Arab and Muslim countries.

Iran, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region have had many high profile visits since the US imposed sanctions, cementing their friendly relationships and economic ties. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to visit Iraq on Monday with a trade delegation.

Via: Rudaw

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