Economy suffers with visa red tape

It's getting harder, it seems, for some Arab nationals to get clearance to work in the UAE. The red tape may be in the name of security, but there are also economic costs to consider.

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A visa denied is an opportunity lost. This is true not only for foreign workers and businesses looking to fill vacancies, but also true for the economy as a whole.

As The National reported this week, a growing number of employers in the UAE, from government agencies to private consulting firms, are seeing potential recruits being refused visas in higher numbers. Many of these cases involve candidates from Arab countries touched by recent unrest - Egypt, Syria and Tunisia chief among them.

We will likely never know the specifics of why individual visa applications are turned down, nor should we. Security protocols and the decisions behind them are secret for a reason.

But taken together the growing trend of visa denials is clearly discouraging for companies that are in the market for regional, Arab talent. It is a good sign that companies are hiring again. It is discouraging that so many are reporting problems with their preferred candidates.

National security must always trump the needs of an individual business. But hiring takes time and costs money. The longer positions go unfilled the less productive businesses will be.

The UAE is not alone in tightening visa restrictions. In May, Kuwait issued a blanket ban on nationals from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria, due to the difficult security situations in each of those countries. Such moves are a nation's prerogative.

It's not clear whether visa delays or rejections in the UAE are official policy or piecemeal denials, but either way, clarity is needed so businesses can better plan to meet their hiring needs.

Recent economic projections across the GCC suggest recruiters remain upbeat about hiring and job creation in the second half of 2011. To keep regional and local economies rolling, visa rules should be made clearer - for security and economic reasons alike.