Kenya marked a significant milestone Friday by becoming the first country to implement a visa-free entry scheme for foreign tourists with over 5,000 applications, and 2,141 already approved.
The East African nation President Williams Ruto had removed visa requirements for travelers, irrespective of their nationalities, to encourage a surge in international tourism.
The visa-free policy encapsulated inside the Electronic Travel Authorization will see passport holders from 53 African countries travel to Kenya without needing a visa.
Immigration authorities confirmed the arrival of the inaugural batch of visa-free travellers in Kenya, four days after the launch was initially planned.
Speaking to the press, Julius Bitok, Principal Secretary of the State Department for Citizens Services, said that these visitors entered via the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport through the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system.
Bitok said that since the government announced its decision to transition from the current visa policy to a visa-free nation through the ETA, it had received over 5,000 ETA applications, with 2,141 already approved.
He also added that the ETA system, which was supposed to be rolled out earlier, was delayed by the government due to some issues with its planned implementation.
Aside from targeting an influx of five million visitors into the country through this policy, the government has proposed that amendments to the immigration laws will help improve the immigration process, including Advance Passenger Information (API) screenings.
The API is expected to collect valuable bio-data from passengers, including flight details and travel purposes, before granting the ETA. This, the government said, will allow for prior security checks before travellers’ arrival.
The Ministry of Interior introduced a Bill, The Kenya Citizenship and Immigration (Amendment) Regulations, 2023, intending to introduce these prescreening measures.
These proposed changes align with President William Ruto’s declaration of visa-free entry to Kenya.
Airlines or agents will be responsible for providing accurate information; however, any inaccuracies may incur a substantial administrative penalty.
The amendment aims to modernise immigration processes, integrate border services for efficiency, bolster security, and facilitate smoother travel experiences while ensuring safety.
The proposed changes involve amendments to the existing Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Regulations, 2012, replacing the term “visa” with “Electronic Travel Authorization,” Stars reported.
According to travelstart.com, Nigerian passport holders interested in travelling to Kenya will only have to apply for the Kenyan e-visa for tourists online through eVisa.
It said, “Once you’ve downloaded your e-visa, simply present it to port officials upon arrival, and you’re all set.”
With this development, Kenya now joins the league of nations using the ETA. These nations are the US, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, the Seychelles, Lucia, Germany, and Kitts and Nevis.
Keenly following this development is Larry Madowo of CNN, who in December 2023 moderated a business tourism event in Kigali, Rwanda, where Alfred Mutua, Kenya Tourism Minister, talked extensively about the visa policy.
Madowo, tweeting on his X page announcing the policy implementation, said, “Kenya is now “visa-free” for every human on earth. But you can’t just get on a flight. You have to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization, pay $30, and wait up to 3 days for approval. So, a visa?
“Kenya hopes to attract 5 million tourists annually with the “visa-free” policy. 51 nationalities did not require visas before. Now, only members of the East African Community are exempt from the Electronic Travel Authorization.”
However, as sceptical and critical as he was in his previous communication about the policy, he sarcastically said, “Kenya only renamed “visa” to “Electronic Travel Authorization,” but almost everything else remains the same.”