People fear new visa fees will prevent family members from visiting from overseas, while others say the regulations will help to cut through red tape. However, those not included in the 33 countries that are exempt from entry visa charges say the levies will hit them hard. Santhosh Hir, 43, an Indian office manager and father of two, has lived in Dubai for more than eight years. He said the new visa rules were another burden in an already expensive city. "About four years ago, I had to send my wife and children back to India because of the cost of living," he said. "I had to move into a smaller shared apartment and send money home. Since then, my family has visited me during the school holidays for a month in the summer. With the extra charge for visit visas, I don't know if we'll still be able to do this because money is so scarce. It's very disheartening as I don't get to see my family very often as it is."
Ranjiv Bedi, 29, an engineer from India who has been living in Sharjah for 18 months, said: "I moved out here alone, but my parents and sister have been to visit twice already. They really love the UAE, but I don't think they will be able to come as often now. " He said Indian nationals should be exempt from the visit visa charges because they "greatly outnumber the amount of people from different countries who take holidays here, as well as come for work".
One of the biggest changes to the way UAE visas are issued is the banning of the so-called "visa run". In the past, this allowed all nationalities to travel to the nearest border to have their visit visas renewed. Now, however, they are required to pay Dh500 (US$136) for a renewal. Those who cannot afford the fee will have to return to their home country and will not be allowed back into the UAE for 30 days.
"It is great if you can afford it," said Jamie Paige, 31, from Britain. "I have been looking for work for a couple of months and have had to fly in and out of Qatar to renew the visa. I will now just pay the money and not have to travel anywhere. But it will not be good if you cannot afford that fee. You will have to go home for a month and I know people in my position who are not as well off who may have to stop looking for jobs in this country."
The new range of visas includes a 60-day study visa, which will cost Dh1,000. Universities in the UAE are unlikely to be heavily affected by the introduction of the visa as most full-time students are on 12-month renewable visas. Students are usually sponsored by the institution they are studying at, or by a free zone if the university is located within one. Part-time students who also work are likely to hold three-year renewable visas sponsored by their employer. Farid Alvie, a spokesman for the American University of Sharjah, said the new system would "not really" impact on the university's operations. Paul Sellers, the UAE director for the British Council, said it would not be affected as students taking the council's English-language courses were usually already UAE residents.
The new visa system is not intended to limit the number of tourists who come to the country; rather, it will target visitors who overstay their visas to find work illegally. The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has set a goal of 15 million tourists by 2015 and the fees are not expected to deter any significant number of visitors from taking holidays in the UAE. The vast majority of tourists to Dubai come from the UK, whose residents can - and will continue to - enter the country for free. Citizens of 33 countries, including most European and North American nations, are required to pay Dh100 for a tourist visa at the airport, although they are rarely asked to do so.
These countries make up the bulk of tourism in the UAE. In 2007, 1.7 million Dubai hotel guests came from Europe. Yet the rules may have an impact on visitors from emerging markets, where growing economies have whetted an appetite for travel. Chinese, Indian and Russian tourists must be sponsored by a relative, hotel or tour operator before they can enter the country legally. Sponsors will be able to apply for either a 30-day or 90-day visit visa at an increased cost of Dh500 or Dh1,000 respectively. The rules will make it more difficult for residents from non-exempt countries to sponsor friends and distant blood relatives. To arrange visas for tourists, operators will have to pay Dh75,000 when opening an agency and a refundable Dh1,000 for every visa for tourists from certain countries.
* The National