x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ministry denies new rules for low-income UAE tourists

Immigration officials say rumours that low-income tourists from some Asian countries will be denied visas are untrue.

ABU DHABI // Reports of more stringent restrictions to be introduced on low-income visitors are "baseless and not accurate', a senior immigration official said yesterday.

Travel agents and embassy officials also said they were unaware of any new visa rules mainly affecting blue-collar tourists from Asia.

"There are lists of procedures that we refer to when granting visas to any nationality," said Maj Gen Nasser Al Menhali, the assistant under secretary for naturalisation, residency and ports affairs at the Ministry of Interior.

"Everyone has access to them and they are on our website. There is nothing else that we refer to. Our system is the same."

Local newspapers reported this week that residency departments across the country had been told to limit the number of visas granted to visitors from countries including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The move was reportedly a bid to cut down on tourists overstaying visas and engaging in crimes including begging.

But Gen Al Menhali said acquiring a tourist visa had always been subject to strict guidelines.

"Tourist visas are actually harder to get than labour visas," he said. "Only businessmen, highly qualified and educated people would be eligible for a tourist visa.

"A labourer with hardly any qualifications would probably not get it in the first place."

Officials at the Indian, Philippine and Pakistani embassies said they were not aware of new regulations.

"Getting visas for Filipino tourists is already very difficult," said Jose Jacob, the consul general at the Philippine Embassy. "The UAE is a very expensive place to visit and visitors must prove they have a relative here and that you are able to finance your visit."

Travel agents said they had heard of the new regulations but had not received any official word or instructions.

"We have been told about this by our public relations officer but we will wait for official comment before we change anything," said Regina Guinucud, who works in the visa section at Omeir Travel Agency in the capital.

Last month, the Bangladeshi Embassy said the UAE had been denying visas to its citizens.

"It is not fully halted but it has been severely restricted," said Mohammed Husain, the political counsellor at the embassy. "The ban on visas is a blanket one and did not target a specific skill set or background."

More than 100 Bangladeshi workers will go home from Dubai this week after their work visa transfers were denied.

Yahya Murad, a spokesman at Sharaf Travel in Dubai, said he was not aware of any crackdown for particular nationalities.

"Each rejection has its own reason," Mr Murad said. "Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos are all getting visas with no problems."

Last month, recruitment agencies and human resources managers said acquiring visas for workers from Arab Spring countries had become nearly impossible.

Gen Al Menhali also said those reports were untrue.

jthomas@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Awad Mustafa