x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Businesses struggle with visa regulations

People overstaying their time are now charged Dh200 for the first day and Dh100 every further day.

ABU DHABI // Businesses warned yesterday that they have not been left with enough time to process their staff visas after a recent change in rules. Regulations introduced in August shortened the time allowed to change an initial visit visa to residency from 60 to 30 days. The changes apply to citizens of 33 countries, including the US and Britain, who are given free 30-day visit visas on entry.

People overstaying their allotted time are now charged Dh200 (US$55) for the first day their visa lapses and Dh100 every further day. Although introduced in August, the impact of the rule change is only now being felt. Companies say the new regulations are leading to confusion and thousands of dirhams in fines, as it often takes more than a month to process applications. However, residency authorities yesterday said firms should either ensure that visas do not lapse, or pay for a new extended 90-day visa for their employees.

The Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department recommended yesterday that companies change their policy and apply for one of the new 90-day visit visas, which cost Dh1,110, at the outset. They also said managers and individuals could make sure fines are avoided by never allowing a visa to expire. "Both a 30-day and a 90-day visit visa are extendable," a spokesman said, adding that the 30-day visa costs Dh610 to extend for a month.

However, many businesses said they were confused about the new rules and are having to pay fines running into several thousand dirhams. Peter Michelmore, chairman of the British Business Group in Abu Dhabi, said "greater clarity would help". "The exempt country nationals are given a 30-day visa, renewable for a further 30 days," he said. "That should normally be sufficient. Established businesses will generally be aware of the rules but I think that there is still a degree of confusion as the administration of some quite complex new rules beds down."

Newer arrivals may be less aware of the rules, he said, adding: "In fact, this three-month period is less helpful than it may appear. The holder of a visit visa is not allowed to work during that period and paperwork can normally be completed within a few weeks. "Perhaps the real benefit is in time spent looking for increasingly scarce accommodation." Colleen Robinson, a business development manager at a relocation company, said: "You used to be able to renew your visa at the 60-day point quite easily but now it has become tougher. A lot of companies are not getting it done in time and having to pay fines. The main problem is that companies do not have professional human resource and public relations managers (PRO) in place that really understand the rules and think to organise visas before their staff are in the country."

Immigration officials admitted that the new rules would take months to implement as glitches were ironed out when they were introduced on July 28. The revamp was designed to allow the Government to keep better track of visitors, halt bogus applications and clear the UAE of illegal workers and those engaged in prostitution. The changes mainly affect non-exempt people from countries such as India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Russia who must apply for a tourist visa, through a registered tourist company or hotel, a visit visa sponsored by a direct relative living in the UAE, or one of 14 other visa types, such as a medical visit visa.

Many businesses believe that it affects industries such as the tourist and hospitality sectors which depend on hiring people who are on visit and tourist visas. @Email:kattwood@thenational.ae