National

Japan to introduce electronic visa system for tourists from April 2020

Kyodo

The government will introduce an electronic system for tourist visa applications in April 2020 in an effort to help achieve its goal of 60 million foreign visitors a year by 2030, government sources said Sunday.

The online system will first be available to Chinese tourists for single-entry visa applications and then to travelers from other countries, the sources said. Tourist visas for Chinese visitors accounted for nearly 60 percent of all the visas issued in 2017, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The government plans to add other types of visas to the new system.

The electronic visa is designed to simplify the application process, reduce the workload at diplomatic missions and tighten immigration control, with visa data to be shared with airlines, ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Prospective visitors will be able to apply for tourist visas online through travel agencies.

Japan had a record 28.7 million foreign visitors in 2017, up 19.3 percent from the previous year, and their spending last year rose 17.8 percent to an all-time high of ¥4.42 trillion ($39 billion).

As the government is looking to boost tourism as a pillar of its growth strategy, it aims to bring the number of visitors to 40 million by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.

As part of its strategy, Japan has eased visa requirements and increased the number of low-cost carriers and other flights to boost inbound tourism.

Individual tourists and cruise passengers from China have contributed to the record pace of growth in foreign visitors, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. Visitors from South Korea and other Asian countries have also helped lift the overall figure.

Although this year’s figure is expected to top 30 million for the first time, Japan has also had to deal with the effects of multiple natural disasters — including a massive earthquake in Hokkaido and torrential rains in the country’s west — that could put a damper on the tourist numbers. Chinese visitors have represented the biggest chunk of foreign tourists to Japan by country and region. A recent survey showed Chinese people’s views of Japan have improved after years of deteriorating relations over a territorial row and wartime history.