The government of Sri Lanka has announced that Russian and Ukrainian tourists in Sri Lanka can extend their visas for free. The reason for that is the war in Ukraine.
Plans for free visa extension were already underway
The decision does not come as a surprise. Since the beginning of March, there had already been reports that the Sri Lankan government was considering offering free visa extensions to both Ukrainian and Russian tourists already staying in the country. Because of the war in Ukraine, it is almost impossible for many of them to return home. The number of international flights to both countries has dropped significantly, and some airlines have completely stopped operating flights to Russia and Ukraine because of the safety risks. As a result, many travellers from these countries are stranded at their holiday destinations. This is also the case with Sri Lanka, where 25% of the total number of tourists come from Russia or Ukraine. The decision of the Sri Lankan government applies to 11.463 Russians and almost 4000 Ukrainians that are now in Sri Lanka. Their visas will be extended by two months for free.
The administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, praised the decision of the Sri Lankan government. According to Power, it is important that all countries show solidarity with Ukraine. Governments of other countries have made similar decisions. Egypt, for example, has announced that Ukrainians and Russians that are currently in Egypt can temporarily extend their visas.
Economic crisis in Sri Lanka due to war
The government’s decision means additional costs for the already struggling Sri Lankan state coffers. Sri Lanka’s economy has been hit particularly hard by the war in Ukraine. The country, which is largely dependent on tourism from abroad, was already struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine has only made the situation worse. It is not only visitors from Ukraine and Russia who are cancelling their holidays;travellers from Western Europe and America are also becoming very reluctant to book a holiday. Almost 15% of Sri Lankans work in the tourism industry, which accounts for about 5 billion dollars a year, but it is already clear that tourism revenues will be much lower this year. Among other things, revenues from visas have dropped dramatically.
Because of the war in Ukraine, the economic situation in Sri Lanka has rapidly worsened. As a result, there has been a severe shortage of gas and fuel, to the point that residents cannot use their cars and have to use firewood to cook. The country also has to switch off its energy supply every day for 7 hours, and many pharmacies have run out of medicines. As exports to the major markets in Russia and Ukraine have basically come to a standstill, the Sri Lankan currency, the rupee, has significantly depreciated. Therefore, the country has too few reserves to solve its economic problems on its own.
Neighbouring India is trying its best to help by supplying important goods, but it is clear that Sri Lanka needs large-scale international assistance to get through the current crisis.