Vexed questions over eVisa scheme fiasco

Friday, 3 May 2024 00:00 –      – 222

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  • Govt., and Public Security Minister come under heavy fire as to why SLT-Mobitel solution was rejected and Cabinet approving unsolicited proposal to outsource visa system
  • Sri Lanka was the first in the region and even before Singapore to launch Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system developed by SLT-Mobitel and in operation sans hassle for 12 years free of charge
  • In July 2021 Cabinet gave go ahead to SLT-Mobitel to improve ETA system but new regime in December 2023 approved outsourcing at hefty cost to visitors draining forex to SL
  • Relatively unknown GBS Technology Services and IVS Global FZCO prime contractors; VFS Global technology partner for new eVisa platform
  • Vis-à-vis SLT-Mobitel’s cost of $ 1 per ETA entry, new Govt. allowed $ 18.5 service fee and $ 7.27 convenience fee by outsourced parties on top of jacked up visa fee
  • In November last year, SLT-Mobitel made written representations to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on ETA project but there had been no response or action
President Ranil Wickremesinghe
Public Security Minister Tiran Alles

The Government and the Ministry of Public Security came under heavy criticism yesterday for outsourcing the visa system supervised by the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DIE) after rejecting a virtually free and well-functioning platform provided by SLT-Mobitel.

Sources said there was a Cabinet Decision made in July 2021 approving Mobitel’s proposal submitted to DIE to revamp the existing system along with the infrastructure at a cost of $ 1.00 per Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) application to be charged from foreigners applying for ETA with zero cost to the Government. However, for reasons best known to the Ministry of Public Security, services of SLT-Mobitel were discontinued along with rejection of the previous Cabinet decision and opting to outsource it to GBS Technology Services and IVS Global FZCO as the prime contractor. VFS Global is the technology partner for implementation of the new eVisa platform. From 17 April, all visitors to Sri Lanka have been subject to $ 18.5 service fee and $ 7.27 convenience fee in addition to higher visa fees.

Standard tourist visa was increased to $ 75 for non-SAARC countries (which means with additional fees an entry will cost over $ 100 per person) and SAARC country tourist visa fee was increased from $ 20 to $ 35. The tourism industry has already protested against the hike and additional fees.

Fresh controversy yesterday was sparked by a viral video which showed a Sri Lankan individual on Wednesday night blaming the Indian visa issuing officers, alleging that his wife’s on-arrival visa on Wednesday night was cancelled. He shouted, questioning how an Indian person could decide his or his wife’s visa status and asserted his rights as a Sri Lankan citizen. The video also showed long queues at the airport. The Indian High Commission clarified no Indian company was involved. However the new contractors had apparently used staff of Indian origin.

Industry sources said that 12 years ago and even before Singapore, Sri Lanka was the first in the region to launch an ETA system developed by SLT-Mobitel.  Through Mobitel’s system over 12 million ETA applications have been processed by DIE over the years.

Overturning the original Cabinet decision in favour of Mobitel and outsourcing it to foreign firms means loss of revenue to Sri Lanka and cost savings to visitors. Though priced at $ 1 per entry, the Government nor the DIE has ever paid SLT-Mobitel for the past 12 years.

In November last year, SLT-Mobitel made written representations to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the DIE project but there had been no response or action.

Sources said there had been a delay in implementing the new system due to COVID-pandemic and the economic crisis. However, following the completion of the development of the new system and testing, SLT-Mobitel was ready to roll out the enhanced platform. Mobitel contracted consultants who have expertise in this area to develop this system. Hardware required for the new system has already been purchased. Mobitel has invested considerably in the development of the new system and procurement of hardware.

Mobitel’s new system will help to solve all the problems currently faced by applicants (Foreigners) and also DIE which in turn will help to increase the tourist arrival. Many new features have been added to the system to increase user friendliness. The new system will also assist to further strengthen national security by providing Biometric verification features, risk assessment, integration to Interpol and other Wanted lists, third party approvals (SIS approval), etc. Sources said these features are not included in proposals of the outsourced parties.

IVS Global Services, a global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide, has been appointed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India to collect documents for Attestation and Apostille.

GBS Technology Inc. is a trusted company with proficiencies in technology stacks to deliver software, information technology solution integration and consulting. It says the Company was founded in 2015 and headquartered in Sterling VA, USA. VFS Global is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology company. It manages non-judgmental and administrative tasks related to applications for visa, passport, and consular services for its governments, increasing productivity and enabling them to focus entirely on the critical task of assessment. With a responsible approach to technology development, adoption and integration, the company prioritizes ethical practices and sustainability while serving as a trusted partner to 67 governments, says its web site.