Sri Lankan tourism authorities have urged all Russian and Ukrainian nationals residing locally to extend their visas through official channels or face deportation amidst growing reports of unauthorized Russian-run businesses in the country, but the president said the visa policy changes were not approved officially.

As reported by Daily Mirror Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) said the “complementary visa extension” for Russian and Ukrainian nationals expired on Feb. 23, and they were given a 14-day “grace period” until March 7 to extend their visas through formal processes. 

The visa extension came into force after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and allowed the nationals of the two nations with a valid tourist visa as of Feb. 28, 2022 to extend the visa for free and stay locally until Feb. 22, 2024 due to the “ban on airspace and non-operation of airlines” in Ukraine and Russia.

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“The government is not granting further visa extensions,” Commissioner-General of Immigration Harsha Ilukpitiya told AFP, adding that flight situations have now normalized, which would allow Russian and Ukrainian nationals to depart.

However, the Sri Lankan President’s Media Division (PMD) said the government has not approved the revocation, and Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation as the tourism authorities’ decision was allegedly issued without prior cabinet approval.

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It is believed the revocation came as a result of growing tensions between Russian nationals and locals, where the former were reportedly running unauthorized businesses. An incident where a Russian-run business attempted to host a “whites-only” party also sparked public outrage.

There were also reports of Russian female tourists engaging in prostitution.

It is estimated that more than 288,000 Russians and about 20,000 Ukrainians visited Sri Lanka after the full-scale invasion, but it’s not known how many reside in the country at present.

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Sri Lanka, which as long relied on tourism as a source of income, declared bankruptcy in 2022 due to decades of alleged financial mismanagement, but the country’s economy has been seen making a slow recovery since late 2023.

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