150. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to reform the current holiday visa system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19368/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department is constantly seeking ways in which the visa system may be developed to facilitate legitimate travel to the State for the purpose of tourism and business. In doing so, officials in INIS maintain regular close contact with relevant Government Departments and agencies. It is, however, important to emphasise, at the outset, that the vast majority of tourists visiting the State - over 96% - are from countries whose citizens do not require a visa to travel to the State e.g. the United Kingdom, other EU states, the United States, etc.
In July, 2011, the Government launched the first ever Irish Short-Stay Visa Waiver Programme. Under this Programme, tourists or business people who have lawfully entered the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a valid UK visa are able to travel on to Ireland without the requirement to obtain an Irish visa. The Programme covers eighteen countries including major emerging tourism and business markets such as China and India. The Programme has proven extremely successful leading to a 68% increase in visits from the countries covered by it from 2010 (the last full year before its introduction) and 2013.
Building on the success of this programme, negotiations took place with the United Kingdom authorities on the development of a reciprocal programme i.e. of also allowing visitors with an Irish visa to travel to the UK on the basis of that visa. These negotiations led to the establishment of the British Irish Visa Scheme which I launched, with the UK Home Secretary, in October last year. This Scheme was implemented in China later that month and in India in February of this year. The Scheme, which will supersede the Waiver Programme, allows visitors to travel to and around the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, including the north and south of the island of Ireland, on a single visa. A formal joint review of the Scheme with the UK is due to be carried out shortly and both Governments have committed to the worldwide rollout of the Scheme to be substantially completed by the end of this year. I am confident that this Scheme will build on and expand the growth in visitor numbers resulting from the original Waiver Programme.
In addition to these measures, a liberal multi-entry visa regime for business travellers and other regular visitors with a good visa history, has been implemented in the Irish Visa Offices in Beijing, Moscow, Abu Dhabi and New Delhi over the last few years. This regime allows for the issue of multi-entry visas for up to five years' duration for applicants with a good previous visa history.
I am satisfied that the existing visa regime continues to support and facilitate tourism growth from countries whose citizens are visa-required for travel to the State.