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ABAC Malaysia Lead Member, Tan Sri Azman Hashim (R) with Director General of Immigration Malaysia, Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali (L) showing APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) at Sunway Putra Hotel. (pix by MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA)

KUALA LUMPUR: Frequent business travellers have been urged to take advantage of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card.

Immigration Director-General Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali said instead of applying for individual visas for 19 countries, a businessman could instead apply for an APEC Business Travel Card and remain in one place for up to 60 or 90 days at a time – returning as often as the card is valid.

"This card allows for Visa exemption in 19 of 21 member economies," he said after the department's seminar on APEC Business Travel Card here today.

APEC's 21 member economies are the US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

He said despite having the travel card Malaysian passport holders, would still require visas if they are travelling to the US or Canada.

Also present was APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Malaysia lead member Tan Sri Azman Hashim. He concurred the APEC Business Travel Card cuts through red tape by giving frequent travellers pre-cleared entry to many countries.

To qualify as a “verified business person” he said one must in the trade of goods or services between countries. Professional athletes, news correspondents or performing artists would not qualify for an APEC Business Travel Card.

"I use this card when I travel within APEC. It only costs me RM100 and can be renewed every five years," said Azman, who is also chairman of AMMB Holdings Bhd.

Mustafar testified that the APEC Business Travel Card is especially useful for both government officials and corporates visiting China – which ordinarily has strict business visa requirement.

Since its introduction in 1997, he said the Immigration Department has processed 70,000 APEC Business Travel Cards and to date, there are around 15,000 active users in Malaysia.

He assured the Immigration Department vets applicants thoroughly before approving of the APEC Business Travel Card. This is to ensure they are not bankrupts, tax evaders or defaulters of student loans.

On the progress of the US Visa Waiver Programme for Malaysian passport holders, Mustafar replied, “the US Visa Waiver Programme discussion is ongoing. The talk’s have always been positive and continues to be.”

Back in April 2014, Malaysia has expressed its desire to participate in the US Visa Waiver Programme during talks between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the-then US President Barack Obama when he visited Malaysia.

The programme would enable Malaysians to enter and stay in the US without a visa for a maximum of 90 days, for tourism and business.