On March 6, a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame approved waiver of entry visa requirements to the citizens of member States of African Union, the Commonwealth and Francophonie countries to foster the implementation of Rwanda’s openness policy.
Fast forward on March 10, the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration issued a new visa regime, updating the one of June 21, 2019, indicating which countries will benefit from the new visa regime.
“Citizens of countries member to the following international organisations; African Union, Commonwealth and La Francophonie…..get visa upon arrival and are waived visa fees for a stay of 30 days,” a statement from the Directorate reads.
The countries include Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Granada, Cape Verde, Cambodia, Comoros, Congo, Cyprus and Dominica.
Others include Djbouti, Egypt, Eswatini, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Gabon, Grenada, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, India, Kilibati, Jamaica, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Maldives, Monaco, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia and Nauru.
The list also includes New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Saharawi Republic, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, The Bahamas, The Gambia, Tonga, Tuvalu, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and The Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“We want more People to visit us”
Speaking about the decision to waive visa requirements at the end of January, President Kagame said that Rwanda intended to make it even easier to visit Rwanda, by exempting citizens of the African Union, the Commonwealth, and the Francophonie from paying visa fees.
“We are going to do it even with some other countries that are not members of these stated organisations, so don’t worry. We have either taken care of that, or we will also take care of that,”
“We want more people to visit us. I was going to say, we don’t want more money but no, we want it. We are going to exempt only visa fees; the rest we want it. Of course, citizens of all other countries will continue to be eligible to obtain a visa on arrival, which has already been operational,” he told diplomats during a luncheon on January 29.
Rwanda also said that citizens of the East African Community who do not pay entry visa fees while travelling on Ordinary, Service and Diplomatic Passports shall be issued a pass/entry visa to stay for a period of six months.
Under the new visa regime, citizens of Angola, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Haiti, Mauritius, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Singapore and the State of Qatar are granted 90 days valid visa free of charge.
Citizens of countries that do not pay entry visa fees while travelling on diplomatic and service/official passports Angola, Benin, People’s Republic of China (including Public Affairs passport), Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and Ethiopia.
Others include the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, India, Israel, Haiti, Mauritius, Mozambique, Morocco, Namibia, Philippines, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The visa will be valid for 90 days.
Immigration said that citizens of all countries not mentioned above will continue getting visa upon arrival without prior application and pay a prescribed visa fee of $50.
Similarly, Rwandans living abroad with dual nationality are allowed to use national IDs on entry. Visa fees have been waived for Rwanda holding foreign passports but have national IDs.
Among other key decisions, foreign residents returning to Rwanda holding valid residence permits with corresponding residential cards will continue to be allowed to use them on entry, including using electronic gates.
The Automated Passenger Clearance System at Kigali International Airport was only used by locals.
The Immigration Directorate also allayed fears that the new visa regime could affect national revenues generated from visa issuance.
The Directorate spokesperson Jean Pierre Nkunzurwanda said in an interview with KT Press allayed fears that scrapping visa fees will affect the economy.
“The truth is, when you open up, more people will come in, spend more and stay longer, directly contributing to the economy. Research shows that the biggest factor that people base on to visit a country or not is the ease to get a visa to any country,”
“When you make it easy for people to have visas and on top of that make it free, more people visit. This is a fact and we already have proof based on the visa regime we had which was also flexible. More people have come to Rwanda ever since we eased visa procedures,” Nkunzurwanda said.
He said that Visa restrictions have proved to be a stumbling block for travellers, adding that Rwanda will gain from the decision much more than the $50 people pay to acquire a visa.
Regarding reciprocity, Nkunzurwanda said that while in most cases countries reciprocate, it is not a must but mostly countries reciprocate the gesture.
“It is a precedent Rwanda has set which hopefully will be followed by other countries but we do what we have to do on our part and other countries to can decide going forward,” he said.
According to available visa regimes online, the current visa regime arguably makes Rwanda the most open country on the continent, competing with the likes of Benin and Seychelles.
Nkuzurwanda also allayed security fears that could come with the open border policy, pointing out that precaution and scrutiny is done elsewhere, before travellers come to Rwanda.
“In most cases, airlines submit lists of people they are bringing in. That way we are able to verify who is wanted, who has a red notice or a person that could be a security threat and action is taken before the visa is issued,” he said.
In the wake of the New Coronavirus outbreak, Nkunzurwanda said that Immigration follows directives of the Ministry of Health and the openness does not in any way expose the country to a possible Coronavirus breach.
Rwanda is set to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM 2020 this coming June.