New visa rules go into effect today

Officials and members of the public are bracing for widespread changes to visa rules being launched today.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 8:  Passport control counter in the departures section of the Dubai International Airport on May 8, 2008.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National) *** Local Caption ***  RS009-DXB.jpgRS009-DXB.jpg
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Officials and members of the public are bracing for widespread changes to visa rules being launched today, although immigration officials admit they will only be able to implement them gradually. While 33 nationalities, including people from the UK, the US and much of Western Europe, are exempted from the new rules, those from countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines - key sources of labour for the UAE - will be affected. Leading companies have also warned that the laws could lead to staff shortages, delays in visa processing and losses in revenues.

Immigration authorities have said the new system will take months to implement as "glitches" are ironed out. Airport authorities also say it is unlikely the laws will be put into practice today, despite the deadline laid down by the Government. Abu Dhabi International Airport yesterday said it was not clear when immigration staff at the airport would be implementing the rules because uncertainty about the intended start date.

"We are currently seeking clarification about the official date of implementation from immigration officials," said Andrew Chupeau, the spokesman for the airport company, adding that the airport would update the public as more information became available. The new laws make it harder for many nationalities to enter the country repeatedly on visit visas by stopping them from exiting and re-entering immediately - a process often referred to as a visa run.

People from countries not exempted from the new rules, including those looking for work, must return to their home countries once their visit or residency visa expires. New fees will also significantly increase the cost of entry for many people. While acknowledging the need for national security, human resources executives at several leading firms say the new rules are confusing and a blow to key industries such as tourism and hospitality, which are already facing staff shortages.

Senior officials from the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD) yesterday briefed public relations officers, business owners, travel agencies and hospitals to clear up confusion surrounding the new regulations. They also pleaded for patience. "This is not the revamp we wanted," Hannah al Kishari, a deputy manager at a subsidiary of Al Futtaim Group, said at the meeting. Ms Kishari said the new laws made it difficult for her company to hire people and said the restrictions should be eased.

"I can see the long-term positives of getting rid of a lot of undesirables, but one could only hope the DNRD would sit down and review their policies to make it simpler for companies to hire people for work," she said. 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. "This new law has positives and negatives," said Suhail al Majid, 27, a public relations officer for the Prince's Oasis Tourism Group.

"On one side, it clears out streets of unwanted vagrants, and on the other hand, it is a severe blow to the hospitality and tourism industry who depend on hiring people who are on visit and tourist visas." Mr Majid said both the tourism and hospitality industries required more flexible laws because of the nature of their business, while he believed new procedures meant it would take longer to process applicants.

"These two industries have a high turnover in staff, and companies need to be bringing people in all the time as the sectors grow. There is already a problem in finding the right people to come here and work; now it would be impossible to take anyone unless we pay the extra money to bring them from their home country," he said. A public relations officer for Skyworld Holding Group said the new visa fees would make companies rethink their hiring policies.

"For a big group like us, it won't be a problem as such, but for smaller companies the added visa fees will see some look at reducing their employees instead of looking to expand," said Sabo, who is from India. He said the confusion surrounding the new laws would last at least a few months as companies, employees and DNRD officials grappled with the changes. "No one seems to know what is actually going on. We are here to get the final statement, and it is one that will severely put a dent into our pockets and make it harder for us to bring people on board at a time the industry is expanding at an accelerated rate," he added.

Bino, a public relations officer with Whitesands Holding Group, said the new regulations had "no clever ideas". "Some of the new visa announcements just don't make any sense," said Bino, who is also from India. Hani, a public relations officer for Danata Tourism, said it was "unfair" and "cruel" to expect people who were between jobs to fly back to their country of origin. "Flying back to a home country before coming back on a new working or visit visa would be just too expensive for people who are out of work or between jobs," he said.

He urged the DNRD to reconsider some of the laws to distinguish between those who were a benefit to the economy and those who remained here illegally.