Our diplomatic missions have a role in disseminating information about the visa procedures at our airport to prevent unexpected hassles. Unfortunately, tourists cannot make online payment for the visa fee at the airport
Nepal is gearing up to celebrate Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY 2020) and hopes to welcome the targetted two million tourists during the year. Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) is the only major gateway for tourists and has the obligatory mandate to provide quick and competent service so that a newcomer enters Nepal with positive vibes and excitement. All of us know that our only international airport is the first impression of our country, which a tourist first sets deep in his or her mind. The immigration office is never unaware of this fact.
However, some tourists complain about the hectic procedure, congestion and unexpected hassles at the TIA immigration. No doubt, sometimes problems may arise due to lack of our effective system or management. But many tourists find themselves in trouble due to their own carelessness, lack of precautions and proper information. Most of the complications tourists face at the immigration revolve around application or payment procedure. When a tourist lands and enters the immigration, s/he must first apply for a visa with the help of a kiosk machine. The second step is to pay the visa fee at the collection counter. During the peak season, s/he may have to go through a long queue, once to apply, then to pay the visa fee and finally while proceeding towards the desk of the immigration officer to get the visa. The problem worsens when some machines abruptly stop working or when the visitor does not carry cash and tries to pay with a credit card, but it does not work in the machines available at the bank counter. Some tourists coming via India have to grasp the nettle when they have no currency other than Indian. Finally, with the limited number of desks open, it is a long way to the immigration desk. These could be problems with some tourists during the peak seasons.
The airport immigration has been suffering from a shortage of officers, and due to this perennial problem, some desks remain closed. An immigration officer can do no more than enhance the work pace only by a little.
Furthermore, the officer cannot overlook the risk posed by suspicious passengers and fraudulent documents while trying to work fast. We don’t have eGates or a biometric system to screen and clear the passengers confidently and on a massive scale.
One thing that prevents us from being efficient is associated with the technology available. The terribly slow network/internet and unreliable power back-up system, even in a sensitive office like immigration, are not new problems. Abrupt interruption even for a minute, for instance, when big jets land within short intervals of time, could send crowds of passengers in the immigration area, which itself is choking with congestion.
We don’t have and don’t expect to have as consistent and reliable technology or system devoid of any flaws as the developed countries. The immigration office alone cannot be better than the condition and level of development of a country, although work at the TIA immigration office these days is far better than in previous times. The airport immigration is undergoing reform in its hardware as well as its software system. We are hoping for dramatic reforms, as our department is working day and night, keeping in mind Visit Nepal Year 2020. And with the operation of another international airport from the third month of 2020, as assured by the minister of the Tourism Ministry, most of the problems, including the one of congestion, might get resolved. Apart from these, some minor precautions on the part of the tourists and some small initiatives by the government could help tourists get easy entrance through the TIA immigration.
First, to make VNY 2020 a success, the government has to make optimum use of diplomatic missions and representatives abroad. Most of the tourists visit as organised groups, facilitated by an international tour company or travel agency. The diplomatic missions and representatives abroad can coordinate, facilitate and share ideas with such companies or agents to escape the hassle at the TIA immigration. Tourists have the choice of getting their visa from the diplomatic missions abroad before visiting Nepal. Getting the entry permit in the visa already issued is always cozier and swifter than getting a visa on arrival. Nonetheless, if they need to get a visa on arrival, they can at least apply online through online.nepalimmigration.gov.np before leaving for Nepal. The ones who land with an application can directly proceed towards the bank counter of the immigration area.
The diplomatic missions and representatives have a major role in disseminating such information about the visa procedures at our airport and share the best ideas to avoid the unexpected hassles. Unfortunately, tourists do not have the option of making online payment for the visa fee at the airport. In this regard, I urge the higher authority to introduce an online payment system sooner than later.
Finally, the government has to think seriously about supplying uninterruptible, high speed, reliable networking and power back-up system at the immigration. Furthermore, the immigration officials should be given some sort of incentive plans so as to retain as well as to motivate them to work even in adverse conditions and have all counters operate in a full-fledged manner.
Bhattarai is Immigration Officer at TIA
A version of this article appears in print on December 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.