Integrity Legal

9th August 2013

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the regional bloc which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, celebrated it’s 46th birthday. To quote directly from the website thepeninsulaqatar.com:

DOHA: Ambassadors of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Qatar were in accord, saying Asean will meet its target to integrate the 10 nations’ economies by end of 2015, as they celebrated the 46th Asean Day yesterday at the Vietnam Embassy…Singapore Ambassador Wong Kwok Pun cited some areas that Asean has made progress on the implementation of the Asean Charter. In particular, he pointed out Asean has made headway on disputes settlement mechanism, has been working towards the implementation of the roadmap for the Asean community, and taken big steps toward an integrated and sustained economic development…

The implementation of policies which would create an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has been an oft-discussed topic among business and legal professionals throughout Southeast Asia. This issue is such a significant topic because by creating a unified Southeast Asian marketplace the countries which comprise ASEAN would become one of the largest markets in the world virtually overnight. That stated, there is a great deal of debate as to whether or not the transition into a unified market will occur smoothly. Some argue that the disparate laws, regulations, and policies throughout the ASEAN member states will not easily coalesce into a workable framework for businesses to operate in the region until governments in ASEAN can implement local policies to bring their regulations in line with the other ASEAN nations. On the  other hand, some argue that because ASEAN leaders have adopted a slow approach to integrating the ASEAN economies the nations which comprise this trading bloc will be able to integrate within the larger body relatively quickly.

Of further concern to both foreign nationals as well as nationals from ASEAN member nations is the promulgation of a single ASEAN visa scheme. Presently, there is not a single visa which one can obtain which would allow the bearer to travel unfettered throughout the the whole of ASEAN. However, leaders in some of the ASEAN countries are looking to remedy this. To quote from the website aseanvisa.com:

Ministers and tourism authorities of the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia have expressed their intention to collaborate with relevant government agencies and other stakeholders to facilitate travel in the region by developing a common smart visa system…According to www.smartvisa.travel, a smart visa is a digital paperless substitute for a traditional visa that can be obtained by a traveler from a travel agent or participating airline…

Clearly, steps are being taken to create some sort of travel document which would provide immigration benefits in multiple ASEAN nations simultaneously. The impetus behind the push for a single ASEAN visa seems to stem from two sources. First, many of the ASEAN nations would appear to view an ASEAN visa as a means of increasing tourism throughout ASEAN. This would appear to especially be a concern to officials in those Southeast Asian nations which do not benefit from high tourism as compared to their other ASEAN counterparts. By creating a visa which allows for access to more than one ASEAN jurisdiction tourist travel to some countries might increase as travelers are no longer deterred in making “side trips” to less popular destinations due to a desire to avoid the need to obtain another visa. Another consideration would appear to be business travel, as ASEAN economic integration continues to gather steam it stands to reason that more foreign nationals will need to visit multiple ASEAN jurisdictions in order to conduct business in the region. By implementing policies to provide for a single ASEAN visa, business travel may increase throughout the region.

The aforementioned article also mentions the recent decision by Thai and Cambodian Immigration authorities to provide a unified visa scheme for travelers wishing to visit those two countries. To quote further from the aseanvisa.com article:

It [the single ASEAN visa scheme] also builds on the single visa scheme for tourism travel between Cambodia and Thailand, which was implemented on January 1, 2013. Progressive relaxation and an Asean common visa would also benefit non-Asean nationals who intend to visit the Asean countries…

One can speculate whether or not the Thai-Cambodian visa scheme mentioned above will one day be consolidated into a pan-ASEAN visa scheme. There are certainly arguments as to the benefits of such an integration, most notably the probable increase in tourism to all of the ASEAN nations. However, one thing remains clear: it appears that virtually all leaders of the ASEAN nations are assiduously studying the ramifications of a single ASEAN visa scheme and should their findings prove that such a scheme would be a benefit to all of ASEAN; then it is likely that such a scheme will eventually come into existence.

For related information please see: Thailand visa.


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