Uzbekistan Takes Another Stab at Visa Rules Shakeup
The government says embassies will issue tourist visas to citizens of 39 countries within two days.
Just in time for the tourist season, Uzbekistan is undertaking another attempt at loosening its visa regime.
As of February 10, visas for short-term visitors from seven countries — Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey — are being dropped altogether. Requirements for 30-day visas for citizens of 39 other countries — including the United States, EU members and other European nations, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — are being greatly simplified. Embassies will issue visas after two days — a turnaround unthinkable even a few weeks ago.
A drastic overhaul of Uzbekistan visa system has been at the top of the agenda since late 2016, after President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power.
In an eye-catching move, Mirziyoyev early last year ordered that as of April 1, 2017, citizens of 15 countries should not be required to obtain visas for 30-day stays. The exuberance was short-lived, however, and a few days later the government hastily withdrew those plans.
The sudden change of heart was attributed to an unforeseen intervention from the National Security Services, or SNB, the headed by veteran hardliner Rustam Inoyatov. As anybody who has been watching Uzbekistan will know, Inoyatov was pushed out of his job last week, which makes it likely the change of tack on the visa policy was a connected development.
Improving conditions for the tourist sector has become a leading priority for Mirziyoyev, who has created the State Committee for the Development of Tourism for that purpose.
According to official figures, 2.5 million foreigners visited Uzbekistan in 2017, but a relatively small portion of those — 220,000 — came from countries that were not in the immediate nearby region.
The London-based World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that the total contribution of tourism to Uzbekistan’s gross domestic product in 2015 stood at a meager 3.2 percent. The WTTC’s projections see the value of tourism increasing in cash terms by 2026, but still remaining stagnant in proportional impact terms, at 3 percent of GDP. In other estimates for 2015, the WTTC said travel and tourism in Uzbekistan contributed to creating, directly and indirectly, 439,000 jobs, or 2.8 percent of total employment.