ASTANA – It is not in vain that Kazakhstan continued its efforts to promote a multi-directional foreign policy through a visa-free regime for 10 economic powers in 2014. In response, some of these countries simplified their visa procedures, and some even lifted visa-related restrictions to facilitate travel exchanges.
South Korea is one of the countries, along with Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, to completely abandon the visa system with Kazakhstan. As a result, these countries are taking advantage of the numerous economic benefits envisioned by the policy, such as medical tourism in South Korea.
Kazakhstan and South Korea launched a new visa-free regime on November 29, 2014, offering citizens of both countries visa-free travel for one month. Korean medical tourism businessman Dong-Il Lim told tengrinews.kz that the number of medical tourists in South Korea is expected to increase five-fold, from 2,890 in 2014 to about 15,000 in 2015. Kazakh citizens’ demand for medical services in South Korea has grown 24-fold since 2008, he told the media.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh embassy in South Korea issued 8,334 visas in 2012, 9,150 visas in 2013, and 6,237 visas in the first nine months of 2014 until the visa-free negotiation was announced. These figures certainly do not reflect the total inflow of South Korean citizens, but only the number of applicants from Seoul. According to Baek Joo-hyun, South Korea’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, about 40,000 South Koreans visited Kazakhstan in 2014.
“15,000 citizens of Kazakhstan visited South Korea (in 2014), and about 40,000 South Koreans visited Kazakhstan,” he emphasized.
Numerous international projects such as the Expo 2017 construction site, Highville, Apple Town, and some of Kazakhstan’s famous five-star international hotels have attracted Korean businessmen and laborers, while tourists love to learn about Kazakhstan culture and sightseeing.
Kazbek Beisebayev, a former Kazakh diplomat, said in an interview with DW that visa-free travel between the two countries is not enough to stimulate investment flows into Kazakhstan. According to Beisebayev, investors will seek other comforting terms for this purpose, and visas are not an obstacle. Nonetheless, he noted that canceling visas “will increase the number of tourists in Kazakhstan and boost tourism”.
On June 12, 2014, at the 27th plenary meeting of the Council of Foreign Investors, President Nazarbayev announced the imminent implementation of a visa-free regime for 10 countries that are the largest investors in the country’s economy: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Malaysia, Korea, UAE, UK and US. The project provides visa-free entry to Kazakhstan for citizens of the above-mentioned countries for 15 days, unlimited number of times, and is a pilot program. The validity period is from July 15, 2014 to July 15, 2015, with the possibility of extension on the expiry date.