ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has toughened its visa policy for Pakistanis, particularly for those holding official and diplomatic passports.
Now, official passport holders are required to wait for a longer time to get visas, contrary to the norms that accord priority to such passport holders. This startling revelation was made in a written reply of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs submitted to the Senate in response to a question of a senator.
According to it, UAE authorities have adopted a stringent policy for granting visas to the holders of official passports from Pakistan.
“Pakistani passport holders – both diplomatic and official – have been facing a stringent clearance regime for the past three years before visas are issued,” stated the written reply.
Media reports regarding issuance of multiple and unauthorised passports to applicants on the basis of forged documents noticed by local authorities may have influenced the UAE visa policy towards Pakistani official passport holders, the reply added.
“All applications are referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abu Dhabi, for approval. After referral by the UAE embassy in Islamabad, authorities in Abu Dhabi consume a maximum of two weeks (eight working days) for processing the applications.”
While the majority of cases are approved within or before the given time, a small number are declined, without assigning any reason, the reply said and added: “The practice of granting visas on arrival has been done away with.”
The immigration system in the UAE has been digitised. But despite this, many problems still exist. The Pakistani mission in Abu Dhabi has approached the UAE for a review of its official policy vis-à-vis issuance of visa to the holders of official passports from Pakistan on November 17, 2015 and on August 15, 2016. “However, their response is still awaited,” maintained the written reply.
UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash had warned Pakistan in April last year that it would pay a heavy price for its ambiguous stand on Yemen. That warning may also be a reason behind treating Pakistani official passport holders so strictly.
Official passports are issued to senators, MNAs, provincial ministers, superior court judges, officers serving with the government and proceeding abroad on official assignments.
In 2013, media reports had alleged that at least 2,000 blue passports were sold to influential people at a hefty price during the PPP regime. According to the reports, undeserving officials were issued these passports and billions of rupees were made out of the sale of diplomatic passports.
The official passport allows entry to some 70 countries around the world without the formality of getting a visa. There has been a tradition in the country where the government – or a particular minister with some clout – has lavished this privilege on selected individuals.
During Shaukat Aziz’s time, a blue passport scandal surfaced in which retired bureaucrats and former ministers were declared entitled to carry it.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2016.