UAE assured visa ban ‘temporary’ to check COVID, says Pakistan

Pakistan foreign office statement says pandemic forced UAE visa restrictions and not ‘security concerns’ as reported earlier.

UAE is home to the second largest population of overseas Pakistanis in the world [File: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg]

Pakistan says it has been assured by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that the abrupt visa ban imposed last month is “temporary in nature” and were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A statement released on Sunday by the Pakistani foreign office said the Gulf state’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan “[reaffirmed] the UAE’s appreciation of the 1.5 million strong Pakistani community and their active contribution to the growth and prosperity of the country”.

The statement came days after Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi concluded his two-day trip to the UAE aimed at seeking a resolution to the visa ban.

On November 18, the UAE abruptly halted the issuance of new visas to citizens of 13 mainly Muslim-majority countries over “security concerns”, according to a Reuters news agency report.

The countries were Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen. Citizens of those countries who were already in the UAE did not appear to be affected by the new restrictions.

The UAE said applications for new employment and visit visas for the citizens from these mostly Muslim-majority nations were suspended until further notice.

Qureshi undertook a two-day trip to the UAE earlier this week and met his UAE counterpart and other top officials to discuss various matters, including the impasse on the issuance of new visas.

“The Pakistani community and our diaspora in the UAE have contributed significantly to the UAE’s progress and development and it is acknowledged and appreciated and we are grateful for that. There are some issues of concern that I discussed and I am expecting a resolution of them,” Qureshi told a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

A day before that, Qureshi held talks with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who also serves as the UAE’s prime minister, vice president and defence minister, in Dubai on the visa ban.

The UAE is home to the second largest population of overseas Pakistanis in the world, according to government data, and is a key source of foreign currency for Pakistan in the form of those workers’ remittances back home.

Last month, an estimated 1.5 million Pakistanis in the UAE sent home $519.5m, accounting for 22 percent of all foreign remittances and ranking second overall in remittances by country, according to Pakistan’s central bank data.

Saudi Arabia leads that list, with Pakistani workers there sending home $615.1m in November.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies