Pakistani tourists, workers and businessmen’s ultimate destination, Dubai, stopped issuing new visas to Pakistan last week to the surprise of many. While the airline industry is optimistic that normal visa services will be restored next week, why the ban was put into place is still not clear.
In the week following the announcement, commentators in Pakistan raised questions against this narrative; asking why countries which have much more rampant COVID-19 infection rates – such as India and the USA – were exempted from UAE’s list. Furthermore, why were only Muslim majority countries singled out.
From the outset, some commentators believed the ban related to the recent improvement in UAE-Israel relations, and will continue for longer.
A week after the ban, budget airline flydubai’s flight FZ1163 took to the skies on Thursday from Dubai on its way to Tel Aviv, where it was received by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile Israel’s national airline, El Al announced it will operate 14 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai starting from December 13.
Uncertainty prevails in Pakistan
No one in Pakistan is certain why UAE’s immigration authorities suspended issuance of new visas. Foreign Office Spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on November 18 that the ban was “believed to be related to the second wave of COVID-19,” and that they were “in contact with the UAE authorities concerned to seek official confirmation of the measures.”
The Correspondent obtained a letter by Dubai Freezone Airport which lists the countries which cannot be given New Employment Visas and New Visit Visas (Long, Short, and Tourist). This provides some clarity on what the ban actually entails.
Chairman Travel Agents Association of Pakistan (TAAP), Mohammad Tariq told the Correspondent, there are still problems for job seekers and tourists, whose visas are not being cleared so far. The authorities issue visas to some of them, while some of the applications are still in process, he claimed.
Office of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) said that UAE authorities are issuing visas to families and businesses, and there was no problem till yesterday (Wednesday). There has been no official communication of the ban however, it maintained.
Speaking to The Correspondent, President KCCI Shariq Vohra said, “our leader Siraj Qasim Teli has gone to UAE last night and he reached there safely; there is no problem at the airport.”
The office of the (Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry) FPCCI also claimed that there has been no visa restriction notification from UAE authorities and that they don’t have any knowledge of the ban.
A source in the airline industry based in Dubai expressed optimism that the ban would be lifted after two weeks. International news agencies also report that the ban will be in place for “a short period”.
UAE and Israel
Generally tight-lipped about its policies, UAE was unusually unforthcoming about this decision. There was no information on when this ban will be lifted, what categories of visas will it apply to, and if there were any exceptions to the ban at all. Perhaps most importantly, there was no explanation on why this ban was implemented in the first place.
Many observers believed the visa ban is related to recent developments in the region. The 13 countries on the list are Muslim countries, which roughly corelate to the states where the West wages “War on Terror”.
At the close of Donald Trump’s term in 2020 normalisation of ties between Arab states and Israel were accelerated: the “Abraham Accords” were signed with the UAE in August, Bahrain signed a similar deal a month later, and Sudan’s transitional government followed suit in October.
Accompanying the normalistaion has been an investment and tourism extravaganza – especially between UAE and Israel. From Abu Dhabi Investment Office’s website appearing in Hebrew to tourism departments of both nations aggressively attacking the “new market” during peak winter season, economic activity between the two states is rife.
To underscore these overtures, the two nations have recently put in place a visa-waiver program – one that does not even exist between Israel and the US, its closest ally.
Earlier this month UAE relaxed and removed a range of limits on foreign ownership of companies, opening the path for Israeli investment that has come streaming in – such as the recently signed agreement between Bank Hapoalim – one of Israel’s largest banks – and two financial entities in UAE, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).
With Israeli officials, tourists and businessmen expected to start pouring in, many international commentators – such as Al Jazeera and TRT World – believe the ban has perhaps been put into place to prevent visitors from these Muslim countries interacting with visiting Israelis during this crucial time.