Visa-Free Travel as Way to Stimulate Investment, Tourism

Citizens of 10 countries that have either invested the most or have the potential to invest the most in Kazakhstan have been granted visa-free travel to the country in a step widely seen as part of a series of measures designed to maintain the Kazakh economy’s competitive edge in a globalising world. It is the right move, and, despite the obvious questions it raises about potential challenges to national security or the loss of visa-generated revenue, the visa-free regime should and probably will get extended and expanded after its one-year trial.
The change, which came into force for travel from July 15, 2014, means all citizens of the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia, the Netherlands, South Korea and Japan can enter, exit and transit through Kazakhstan without a visa for visits of up to 15 calendar days at a time. There are no limits on the number of such visits per year.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced the change at a sitting of the Foreign Investors’ Council on June 12 as part of a series of initiatives, including tax incentives, to encourage foreign investment and tourism in the country. The change also comes only a few weeks after Kazakhstan joined with Russia and Belarus in creating a Eurasian Economic Union, and as such is seen as another step by Astana to remain attractive to foreign investors in the newly created unified market of 170 million people.
Kazakhstan’s openness to foreign investment has helped the country become one of the world’s 50 biggest economies. President Nazarbayev has set a goal for his country to build on its strong growth to join the ranks of the top 30 global economies by 2050.
Tourism is expected to play a key part in achieving this ambition. Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, contains a wide variety of national parks and stunning landscapes from high mountains to deserts.
Astana, the new capital city, has attracted some of the world’s leading architects to create a remarkable cityscape, while Almaty, the country’s largest city and erstwhile capital, is expected to be shortlisted to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said, “By making it easier to visit Kazakhstan, more people will have the chance to discover Kazakhstan’s beauty and diversity. It is a country full of opportunities for both business and tourism.”
The visa-free programme, which will initially run for one year, may be expanded in 2015 to include more countries. It follows several other measures in easing the hassle for foreign visitors as well as a simplified visa-issuing regime for citizens of almost 50 countries.
“One of our key objectives is creating a favourable visa policy,” Rapil Zhoshybayev, Kazakhstan’s first deputy foreign minister and the national commissioner for EXPO 2017, told a media briefing on July 10. “It is necessary for the full realisation of the tourism potential of the country and attracting foreign investment. You can achieve this by extending the visa-free space, improving visa and migration policy, facilitating mutual trips of citizens. In this direction, we have been taking comprehensive measures on an ongoing basis. In particular, in February 2004, Kazakhstan unilaterally introduced a simplified procedure for issuing visas to citizens of 28 EU member states. In 2012, this list has grown to 48 politically stable and economically developed countries.”
Currently, Kazakhstan is one of the leaders in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI): it attracted $183.9 billion in FDI. “The maximal use of the economic potential of the state without this factor is not seen as possible and providing a convenient visa regime for foreign investors is one of the important steps in this direction,” Zhoshybayev explained.
“This [new] visa-free regime applies to all citizens of these countries who want to visit our country on a short visit for tourism or for private business; to stay with relatives, friends and acquaintances; get acquainted with the culture of Kazakhstan; to visit historical and natural attractions,” he added. “This, in turn, will allow Kazakhstan to actively develop tourism. It will benefit the development of small and medium business, create jobs and replenish the state budget.”
According to officials, the abolition of visa formalities, aimed at increasing the number of foreign investors, businesspeople and tourists visiting the country, will more than offset the expected loss of $4 million generated by such formalities annually.
Furthermore, people who can show their potential in investing and find local partners will also be able to obtain business and investors’ visas, allowing them longer stays and visits.
In introducing the new measures, Kazakhstan expects reciprocity from its foreign partners.
“I would like to note that this is done not only with visiting foreign nationals in mind, but also on a parity basis, to facilitate visas processes for our citizens travelling abroad,” Zhoshybayev told the media. Idrissov frequently mentions Astana’s desired goal of simplifying visa regimes for its citizens, especially with the Schengen states. Since last year, Kazakhstan and the United States have introduced five-year visas, while Kazakhstan has signed visa-free travel agreements with South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and other countries.
It is only natural for Kazakhstan, a growing country posing no threat in terms of emigration flows, to expect reciprocity.