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Visa fee waiver boost for visitors

Up to a million people from a select number of Arab, Asian and eastern European countries living in the UK will be allowed a free visa to visit Ireland from today.

The initiative is part of the Irish Government's visa waiver scheme which allows tourists and business chiefs from 16 countries to travel to Ireland without a visa if they pass through UK border controls.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the programme as visionary, while Justice Minister Alan Shatter said it would help woo business tourists linked with the London Olympics.

"So for India, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to name a few, this offers a unique opportunity for them and for us to say 'come to Ireland'. The extent of flights from Britain is so frequent that it's only a short hop across," Mr Kenny said.

The countries involved include Belarus, Montenegro, the Russian federation, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Kazakhstan, China and Uzbekistan.

Tourists or business chiefs will be allowed to travel to Ireland and stay for up to 90 days without an Irish visa if they passed through the UK on a valid UK visa.

Citizens from the selected countries who are long-term legal residents in the UK will need a visa to travel to Ireland, but will have their fee waived.

It is estimated that there are up to one million people in this category.

Normally, a single entry visa for Ireland costs 60 euro, while a multiple entry visa costs 100 euro.

The visa waiver scheme is a pilot project due to run until the end of October 2012.

But Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he expects the scheme to be extended and to include other countries.

"It's not just aimed at the tourist industry, which of course we hope will get a boost from it," he said.

"It's aimed at business. There are many people who visit the UK who are interested in doing business who in the past haven't necessarily considered coming to Ireland and simply because of filling in forms and paying visa fees, just haven't bothered."

© Press Association