x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Philippine ambassador to meet with travel agents

Travel agents in Dubai are to meet the Philippine ambassador to the UAE to discuss reports of alleged tampering of visas.

DUBAI // Travel agents in Dubai are to meet the Philippine ambassador to the UAE on Thursday to discuss reports of alleged tampering of visas. Libran Cabactulan confirmed he was attending the meeting but would not elaborate. "We sought the assistance of the ambassador as other travel agencies which were not involved in issuing fake visas have been badly affected," one travel agent said. "All visa applications are now subject to rigid scrutiny."

At least three travel agencies are being investigated by the Dubai immigration authorities for issuing fake visas, according to an industry source. Another source said a Filipina working for one of the three travel agencies in question had been jailed in Jumeirah in connection with the issuing of fake visas. "It is so shameful," the source said. A travel agency worker said the tampering involved the use of computer software to edit the passport numbers on visas so they matched the numbers on a client's passport. The altered visa was then printed off and faxed to the applicants waiting in the Omani border town of Buraimi.

But vigilant border guards spotted the scam. "When they [the clients] were about to re-enter the country on these fake visas, the immigration authorities at the border checked the new visas against the system and noticed the passport numbers on the visas were different from the numbers on their system," the travel agency worker said. The meeting with the ambassador will take place at 8pm at the Traders Hotel in Deira. It is believed that travel agencies have expressed concern over the possibility of people being stranded in neighbouring countries while waiting for their new visas to re-enter the country.

An agent at a travel agency in Karama said tourist visa applications for Filipinos made last week were being held back because of the concerns. Mr Cabactulan had said processing of visas was much faster as a result of his meetings with Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, and Brig Nasser al Minhali, the acting director general of the Federal Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD), last month.

But this seems to have changed after Filipinos were recently barred from re-entering the country and were sent back to a hotel in Buraimi. An industry source said the DNRD had now made it mandatory for Filipinos to attach a clear passport copy with the visa application. "This was not a requirement earlier as all visa applications were done online," she said. A DNRD spokesman said he was not aware of any investigation into travel agencies relating to the issuing of fake visas.

rruiz@thenational.ae