Sri Lanka stops issuing free long-term visas to Russian and Ukrainian nationals

Sri Lanka on Thursday announced it would stop issuing free long-term visas to Russian and Ukrainian nationals who have been on the island for the past two years to escape Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

The Russian and Ukrainian nationals willing to extend their stay in the Indian Ocean island nation would have to pay $50 (£39) for a 30-day visa, public security minister Tiran Alles said.

"Whoever wants to stay back can apply for new visas," the minister told Reuters, adding: "They can immediately renew their visas and remain here."

The announcement comes after the immigration controller issued a notice to the tourism ministry last week asking Russian and Ukrainian nationals staying on free extended tourist visas to depart within 7 March. The notice triggered a fury on social media, prompting a response from the president's office denying its approval.

Just over 288,000 Russians and nearly 20,000 Ukrainians have traveled to Sri Lanka in the last two years since the war began, according to official data.

However, about 300 to 400 Russians and Ukrainians were estimated to have been staying in the island since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, said chair Priantha Fernando of the island's tourism body.

The new long-stay visa rules announced on Thursday would not apply to "normal tourists" visiting the country, Mr Fernando clarified. "We are more than welcoming them ... there is no issue," he added.

New Russian tourists will be eligible for free visas under a separate promotion scheme, which was adopted last November, under which tourists would be issued free visas till 31 March.

Sri Lankan authorities have also shared concerns over foreign nationals setting up their own restaurants and nightclubs, with some hosting "white-only" parties.

Tourism minister Harin Fernando told Daily Mirror that the ministry has been receiving complaints of some Russian tourists running unregistered and illegal businesses in the southern part of the country.

A Russian business owner in Sri Lanka this week apologised after a “white-only" party triggered a backlash on the second anniversary of Russia's Ukraine invasion.

"We apologise! The party planned for Saturday will not take place. We have urgently cancelled this event. Also, we have severed ties with the organisers who planned this party at our venue," said Sarayka Lounge, the Russian restaurant bar at the centre of the controversy.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Russians have been one of the largest groups of tourists visiting Sri Lanka. From 2021 to 2023, Russians have been the second largest source market for Sri Lanka tourism.

The island has received about 400,000 tourists in 2024 and aims to welcome about 2.2 million tourists by December in its efforts to recover from the worst financial crisis in decades.