x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Visa confusion: Don't trust that stamp in your passport

Some visitors to the UAE are facing heavy fines upon leaving the country because of erroneous official stamps in their passports.

DUBAI // Some visitors to the UAE are facing heavy fines upon leaving the country because of erroneous official stamps in their passports. Under the rule changes introduced last July, all visit visas are now valid for 30 days instead of 60. Yet a number visitors since then have been given stamps in their passports showing 60-day validity.

"I came in on Dec 28 and was given a visa at the airport that says '60 days from date of entry'," said Anne, a British citizen. "I left 43 days later but was stopped at passport control and told that there were no more 60-day visas. The man said they were all 30 days, and I had to pay an Dh800 (US$218) fine. I wasn't the only one; the people in front of me were having to pay Dh3,000. It was lucky that I had just enough cash on me or I would have missed my flight."

She said she was offered no explanation about when or why the rules had changed. "I asked how I was supposed to know that what was written in my passport was incorrect and was told that I should have read the newspapers," she said. "It's very unclear and seems harsh." Even the British Embassy admits to some confusion. A notice on the website of the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office says: "The length of visit visas given to visitors on arrival changed with effect January 1 2009. The Ministry of Immigration has told us verbally, but not confirmed in writing, that British nationals will get a 30-day visa on arrival."

Nationals of 33 countries, including most of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, get their initial 30-day visa free, and are also given a 10-day grace period during which they can pay to extend the visa by another 30 days. Citizens of other countries have to pay on arrival and cannot extend their stays. Jerome, who holds Italian and Swiss passports, was fined at the border when driving to Oman for a day trip.

"The immigration officer said I had overstayed, despite the fact that my visa said 60 days and I was well within that time," he said. "In order to leave I had to pay Dh1,300. The official just said the rules had changed and that what it said in my passport did not count." Jerome said he went to different offices of the Department of Naturalisation and Residency - Dubai (DNRD) trying to get a refund.

"But nobody seemed to know what was going on," he said. "Eventually I was told to submit a complaint online. I just don't understand why I was fined. I'm not in this country to break the law; if I had known my visa was only valid for 30 days, I would have left within that time." The DNRD said 60-day visa stamps were no longer being used. "Since July 2008, the system has seen a large-scale change, and some errors were bound to happen," said Major Gen Mohammed al Marri, the director general of the DNRD.

"If it is a human error by one of our employees, we will do our best to rectify it on a case-by-case basis, and if it is a lack of understanding of the regulations, our call-centre staff would be happy to offer the correct information." Gen al Marri urged people with complaints to get in touch with the DNRD either by telephone (800 5111) or by e-mail (amer@dnrd.ae). Complaints can also be made on the internet at www.amer.ae. Information on the various types of visas is at www.dnrd.ae.

gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae