Malaysia to ease entry rules for some visitors


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP

Malaysia will relax visa restrictions recently imposed on visitors from a southeast Indian city, and will allow Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians to stay longer in the country, the government said Thursday.

Indians who use Chennai as an exit point but are not residents of the city will be granted a visa on arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters. Chennai residents, however, will still have to obtain visas beforehand from Malaysian missions, he said.

In December, Malaysia stopped issuing visas-on-arrival for all Indians arriving from Chennai, saying many from that area have abused tourist visas to work illegally.

Najib said authorities discovered that 25 percent of those arriving from Chennai were overstaying, which means that they were not returning to India after their one-month visas expired.

But Najib noted that the blanket ban on visas was making travel difficult for other Indians who traveled to Chennai from other cities and towns to take a connecting flight to Malaysia.

“Those who use Chennai to come to Malaysia — because there is easy connectivity from Chennai to Kuala Lumpur — we will grant them visas on arrival. But Chennai residents will have to apply beforehand,” he said.

Home Minister Mohammed Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said 19,000 visitors from India and China overstayed between September last year and now. He did not provide a breakdown between the two nationalities, but said 3,000 of the overstayers were from Chennai, the capital of India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Malaysia is a magnet for Indians looking for better-paying jobs abroad. Many come as tourists, then disappear among the public — which includes a substantial ethnic Indian minority — to work illegally in restaurants and other jobs that Malaysians shun.

But Malaysia also wants to woo the wealthy Indian tourists who come to the country in droves, mainly from northern states, and are among the biggest spenders here.

As part of a strategy to encourage visitors from the Middle East, Malaysia will also extend the length of tourist visas on arrival for Iranians from 15 days to three months, and those from Iraq, the Palestinian Territories and Syria from 14 days to 30 days.