Nepal’s Home Ministry has revised an earlier decision to charge foreigners on tourist visas stuck in Nepal because of the lockdown, and said extension and overstay fees as well as fines will only be levied 15 days after the resumption of international flights.
The decision was made by Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa himself after there was outrage on social media following an earlier directive by the Department of Immigration about the fees and fines. Critics said this would have destroyed Nepal’s image as a friendly tourist destination, and hamper recovery of the industry in future.
Department of Immigration Director General Ramesh Kumar KC said all previous decisions had been revoked, and those stranded in Nepal due to the lockdown can now get a free visa extension provided they leave a fortnight after the resumption of regular international flights.
“We were confused about which fees to take and which were exempt, and we were in a difficult position when we tried to enforce the previous rule. Now it has been clarified, and the fees will not be taken,” KC told Nepali Times.
However, about 300 foreigners had gone to the Immigration Department after 15 June to renew their visas and had already paid the fees. KC said a separate decision would be taken about those who had already paid fees.
The decision was reversed after foreign embassies in Nepal, honorary consuls had complained to the government, and the Nepal Tourism Board made a special appeal to withdraw the fee decision. Most tourists have left on repatriation flights organised by their embassies, but there are still about 2,000 foreign passport holders on tourist visas stuck in Nepal.
Nepal Tourism Board had appealed to the Home Ministry not to take any fees from stranded tourists. But the Department of Immigration had started extending visas for a daily $5 fee after offices opened on 15 June.
After criticism, the Department then said no fees would be charged for seven days after the regular flights resumed. But when tourists complained that was not enough time because of flights being limited and full, it was finally extended to 14 days.
“This confusion is a result of the Home Minister not coordinating with the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Immigration,” NTB’s Dhananjaya Regmi said. “These were tourists who came because of Visit Nepal 2020, and it was damaging to Nepal that they were charged. We had always maintained that we should not charge stranded tourists.”
Regmi said the NTB had in fact recommended no extension fees for at least three weeks after flights resumed, but the Ministry has agreed to only two weeks.
However, some tourists still complained about the confusion. Radek from Poland who did not want his full name used, said: “What will happen to those who have already paid their fees? What if we cannot get a flight even for 14 days after the lockdown is lifted? It would have been so simple to just make one clear announcement, but there was unnecessary hassle.”
Other tourists also did not like the unnecessary hassle of having to visit the Immigration Department to get visas extended at no cost. “Why can’t that be done at the airport?” asked one stranded tourist from Mexico.
The Nepal government also cracked down on foreigners taking part in the youth-led protests last week, arresting six of them from the US, Canada and China, even though some of them were just by-standers. They were kept in custody for three days, and some of banned from entering Nepal for three years.