KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27: Malaysia will grant a 30-day visa-free entry for Indian and Chinese citizens from December 1, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has announced, joining Thailand and Sri Lanka in recent weeks to offer such a facility to foreigners to promote tourism.
Ibrahim said the waiver was an additional facility to the existing visa exemptions currently enjoyed by Gulf nations and other West Asian countries, including Turkiye and Jordan.
However, Ibrahim, who is also the Finance Minister, said the visa exemption was subject to top security screening, the official Bernama news agency reported.
“Initial screenings will be conducted for all tourists and visitors to Malaysia. Security is a different matter. If there are criminal records or the risk of terrorism, they will not be allowed to enter,” he said.
“That comes under the authority of the security forces and immigration,” said the Prime Minister, who is likely to travel to India in the first half of next year in reflection of the growing upswing in overall ties between the two nations.
Malaysia is a member of the 10-member ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc, which is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region.
The 30-day visa-free entry is also currently enjoyed by eight ASEAN countries for the purpose of social visits, tourism and business.
Malaysia is currently targeting 16.1 million international tourist arrivals with RM 49.3 billion in tourism receipts.
India remains to be among the top countries to contribute tourist arrivals to Malaysia.
In 2022, Malaysia welcomed a total of 324,548 Indian tourists, while in the first quarter of 2023, Malaysia received as many as 164,566 Indian tourists compared to 13,370 in the same period last year, according to data from the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, also known as Tourism Malaysia.
Currently, there are 158 flights with 30,032 seats offered weekly between India and Malaysia through Malaysia Airlines, Batik Air, AirAsia and IndiGo, said the agency under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia.
“The political relationship is growing. The people-to-people connect is growing. The potential for growing a relationship is good,” India’s high commissioner to Malaysia B N Reddy said over the weekend.
“Malaysia has the second largest Indian-origin community. I would say there is a mini-India here. Even though Tamil speakers are the largest, you also have the Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi, Gujarati, and Odiya-speaking people, which provides a natural bridge for us to engage with Malaysia more deeply,” Reddy said, referring to a 2.9-million-strong overseas Indian community in the country (2.75 million PIOs and 0.16 million NRIs).
The visa-free entry to Malaysia is seen as a step to further bolster unwavering bilateral relations besides stimulating the economy and tourism sector in the country, Bernama reported.
Malaysia’s decision follows a similar visa waiver implemented by Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Sri Lanka has introduced a visa-free entry initiative for visitors from India and six other countries, encompassing China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand.
This initiative will remain effective until March 31, 2024, and aims to boost tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka, with the tourism ministry setting a target of attracting five million tourists in the coming years.
Thailand has also lifted visa requirements for visitors from India and Taiwan.
Indians can travel to Thailand without a visa and stay for up to 30 days, the government announced recently.
This visa-free access for Indian passport holders is applicable from November 10, 2023, to May 10, 2024. (PTI)