Uzbek e-visas to launch
On July 15, Uzbekistan will introduce an electronic visa system as well as a scheme allowing free five-day transit visas for 101 nationalities.
Uzbekistan is keen to open its Silk Road splendour to more international travellers after a failed attempt to ease visa procedures in late 2016.
One of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s first moves after his inauguration in December 2016 was to announce a relaxation in visa requirements for 27 nationalities while promising electronic visas by 2018.
Mirziyoyev also solved problems that used to plague the country’s economy such as the lack of currency convertibility and excessive state intervention.
But the visa reforms were delayed, allegedly because the authoritarian National Security Service (SNB), opposed the plan. But its chief, Rustam Inoyatov, viewed as a rival candidate to succeed the dictator Islam Karimov who died in 2016, was sacked in January.
On February 1, simplified procedures for issuing tourist visas were introduced for 39 nationalities, including nations in the European Union, East Asia and West Asia and India and the US.
Uzbekistan has abundant natural resources, a skilled labour pool, a strategic location between Russia and China and it shares borders all the other Central Asian republics. It also boasts the dramatically beautiful Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara (pictured) and Khiva.
The reforms removed the requirement for a voucher or letter of invitation and shortened the waiting time for a visa to two days. Israel, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey and Japan were granted visa-free access for up to 30 days.
This month Mirziyoyev introduced e-visas, which are set to become operational on July 15. Foreigners can apply for 30-day visas online, reducing the time and effort involved in acquiring an Uzbek visa for just a reported US$20.
And there will be visa-free entry for 101 nationalities transiting through Uzbekistan for up to five days. It is hoped more airlines will opt to stop in Tashkent as a consequence.
Lonely Planet recently listed Uzbekistan second in its list of top 10 Asian destinations. The travel guide wrote: “Whilst the country lags behind its neighbours in a few ways, particularly regarding human rights, there is a feeling of hope that, as Uzbekistan enjoys the benefits of being welcoming to all, positive change will follow.”
In further opening up, yesterday (Tuesday) Uzbekistan relaxed regulatory requirements for Kazakh banks looking to set up subsidiaries, opening the way for Halyk Bank, Kazakhstan’s biggest lender, to start cross-border operations.
Uzbekistan normally allows only banks rated “A” or higher to establish subsidiaries.
Bukhara. Picture credit: Eurasia Times