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CANBERRA, Australia (July 1, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Effective today, Pacific islanders planning to holiday in Australia will have to pay a new $AUS 50 ($US 30) visa fee and an increased departure tax of $AUS 30 ($US 18).

Under the new system, only tourists from countries with access to automatic electronic visas will be admitted without having to pay the new fee. Tourists from all other countries, including the Pacific Islands, will be charged the higher amounts.

The exempt countries are those with high-volume tourism and a low percentage of overstayers (people who do not leave Australia when their visas expire). These countries are Britain, Japan, the United States, Canada, most of Western Europe, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Officials says the volume of tourism from Pacific Island countries does not justify electronic visa facilities and some nations, including Samoa and Tonga, have high numbers of overstayers.

Tourism authorities in Australia have criticized the introduction of the visa fee, suggesting it will decrease the number of visitors. At the same time, ethnic community representatives have described the selective fee as "cultural and racial stereotyping."

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