Since last year, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) has been calling for an overhaul of the Irish visa regime, whereby visitors who require a visa for the UK also needed to obtain a separate visa for a visit to the Republic of Ireland. This had led to a number of difficulties, not least of which was the need for a multiple entry visa if an itinerary took in any of the 6 counties of the North. A person would be leave the Republic to visit Belfast, and re-enter if they returned via Dublin. A multiple entry visa was not available to first-time visitors to Ireland.
In a statement delivered on Tuesday, May 10, the Irish Finance Minister announced an important reform to the visa requirements for visitors to Ireland.
Despite the technical difficulties presented by obtaining this visa, as Ireland and the UK share a common border, there were few formal controls in place. It was possible for someone to acquire a visa, and for it never to be inspected. It was similarly possible for people who required a visa to pass though Ireland without one.
This has been resolved by the introduction of a “visa waiver” program, which will run initially as a pilot scheme, but is “capable of being amended or extended at any point depending on lessons learned during running.”
NATURE OF THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM
• Holders of UK visas will have them recognized for short stay visits to Ireland.
• Once a person has cleared immigration in UK, they can enter Ireland as many times as they like and stay up to the limit of their 180 day UK visa.
• This is expected to mainly cover Business and Tourist visitors.
• There is an immediate potential saving of €60 per visitor, e.g., €240 for a family of 4.
• This should ensure ease of travel for visitors traveling to and from Northern Ireland.
• For immigration control reasons, visitors must first have gained lawful entry to the UK before traveling to Ireland.
• Pilot program to run from 1 July, 2011 to October, 2012.
• This will include the lead in to the London Olympic Games and beyond.
• The pilot is capable of being amended or extended at any point.
• Special arrangements will be put in place to facilitate visits by nationals of the affected countries who are long-term residents of the UK.
• Arrangements will also be put in place to facilitate visitors on cruise liners.
EASTERN EUROPE –
MIDDLE EAST –
United Arab Emirates
OTHER ASIAN COUNTRIES –
Peoples Republic of China
This scheme is a product of the Irish government’s “Jobs Initiative” in which the tourism industry has been deemed as having a vital role to play. The Irish government said that “The Waiver Program is intended as a support to the tourism industry in its efforts to attract visitors to Ireland, especially from new and emerging markets.”
Obtaining a visa was not so much an issue of cost, as inconvenience. This measure enormously enhances the appeal of Ireland and so the UK as well. Operators can now start marketing itineraries that take in the whole of the British Isles, without alienating those nationals who require visas. Should the UK government adopt a similar scheme for visitors holding Schengen visas, then the UK’s appeal as a destination for emerging markets would be transformed. Britain and Ireland could then feature in European itineraries without making them less attractive.
Furthermore, a VAT reduction will be introduced for many services relating to tourism. A new temporary reduced rate of VAT at 9% will be introduced with effect from July 1, 2011 until end-December 2013. The new 9% rate will apply mainly to restaurant and catering services, hotel and holiday accommodation, and various entertainment services such as admissions to cinemas, theatres, museums, fairgrounds, amusement parks, and sporting facilities. In addition, hairdressing and printed matter such as brochures, maps, programs, and newspapers will also be charged at the new rate.
All other goods and services to which a reduced rate currently applies will remain subject to the 13.5% rate.