x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Staff brace for visa chaos as new regulations loom

Immigration officials fear that "glitches" in a new visa system could cause problems at the country's airports.

People line up at passport control in Dubai International Airport.
People line up at passport control in Dubai International Airport.

Immigration officials fear that "glitches" in a new visa system due to come into effect on Tuesday could cause problems at the country's airports and borders for up to two months. Senior officials yesterday pleaded for patience as they outlined for the first time the exact details of the sweeping changes in fees and conditions facing visitors requiring visas.

The most significant changes are an increase in cost, a ban on "visa runs" and the introduction of visas specific to business, education and health. The 33 countries whose citizens are currently exempt from requiring visas before travelling will be largely unaffected by the changes. However, thousands of visitors from non-exempt countries, including India, Pakistan and Russia, will now have to pay a fee of Dh500 (US$136) upon entering the UAE for a 30-day stay. There is also a doubling of the cost of a multiple-visit visa to Dh2,000.

The revamped system coming into effect on Tuesday will see several new types of visas, including a 90-day medical-treatment visa, a short-term study visa and one for delegates attending exhibitions and conferences. A team of IT technicians at Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD) is now working to install a complex new computer network to process visa applications under the new system.

Maj Gen Mohammed Ahmed al Merri, the director general of the department, yesterday admitted the new system could be thrown into turmoil by teething problems as operators got to grips with the software, which had not been used before. He added that it could take up to two months to overcome all the technical problems. "There could be glitches in the system as we get the new scheme up and running but the IT team is working overtime - 24 hours a day - to make sure the system is up and running on time," he said.

He was, he said, "hopeful the changeover will occur unnoticed and trouble-free but unfortunately it could take up to two months before all glitches are ironed out. "We have the experience required in all departments to make sure the new scheme launches successfully, but it could take a little while to get over the bumps." The DNRD and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) yesterday briefed representatives of hotels, tourist agencies, hospitals and educational institutions at the Dubai Police Officers Club in Garhoud on how the changes would be implemented.

The revamp of the system had been designed to keep better track of visitors, Mr Merri said. Ibrahim Yaqoot, DTCM's executive director of human resources, added: "The new system will help us track those who enter and what their purpose is, making sure they have an enjoyable stay. We will be able to find out exactly what they are here for; if they are tourists or looking for work." He believes the overhaul will bring the UAE in line with international standards.

Four extra categories of visas, including one for guests of the Government, would be added when the changes came into force on Aug 1. In addition, there would be 16 specific new visas, including the Dh500 30-day stay and a Dh1,000 90-day visa which will apply to travellers visiting family or friends. The new legislation will also put an end to the practice of "visa runs", in which thousands of expatriates without residency visas cross the Oman border and then return within hours to renew their visitor visas. Under the new system, anyone in that position will have to pay the renewal fee or leave the country for at least 30 days before returning.

Under the revamp, residents can apply for a visa for their spouse or blood relative, but will not be allowed to sponsor friends. Although expatriates will not be able to sponsor relatives who wish to come for medical treatment, hospitals will be allowed to. For tourists who book into hotels or who book holidays through a registered tour operator or agency, the visit visa will not be required. Instead, they must carry a tourist visa, costing Dh100, which can be issued through the hotel or agency. The tourist company will have to pay Dh75,000 to the Government when opening the agency and a refundable Dh1,000 for every visa for tourists from certain countries. The company must also provide a full itinerary for the traveller for their stay.

The visa requirements, which also stipulate that an individual must have health insurance valid for the period of his stay, will apply to all nationalities. Mr Merri said the new procedures for issuing visitor's visas had been prompted by fears that increasing numbers of criminals and beggars were entering the country. @Email:shafez@thenational.ae