DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Travel agencies in countries across the Middle East and Africa say the United Arab Emirates has temporarily halted issuing new visas to their citizens, a so-far unexplained ban on visitors amid both the coronavirus pandemic and the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel.
Confusion over the UAE visa ban targeting 11 Muslim-majority nations, in addition to Lebanon and Kenya, swirled after a leaked document from Dubai’s state-owned airport free zone surfaced this week, declaring restrictions against a range of nationalities.
Emirati authorities have not acknowledged the suspension that comes as the UAE welcomes Israeli tourists for the first time in history, the coronavirus pandemic surges across the region and those searching for work in the federation of seven sheikhdoms increasingly overstay their tourist visas amid a cascade of business shutdowns and lay-offs.
Citing an order from the country’s immigration authorities, the note to companies operating in Dubai’s airport free zone announced a pause in issuing all new employment, long and short-term visit visas “until further notice” from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Tunisia, without offering a reason. Those already holding visas would not be affected, it said.
The revelation has gripped social media feeds and news outlets worldwide, underscoring the UAE’s global status as magnet for expat workers and visitors who outnumber locals nearly nine to one in the country.
When asked by The Associated Press about the order, the country’s immigration department said it’s “not aware of any formal list of nationalities requiring visa suspension.” Dubai’s airport free zone confirmed the veracity of the document to the AP and said it was waiting for further clarification from officials.
Meanwhile, across the region, agencies and authorities say their citizens are forbidden from entering the UAE.
Travel agents in Pakistan said the UAE has barred single men under the age of 50 from the country, although those traveling with family can still obtain visas. Last week, Pakistan’s foreign office said it had “learnt that the UAE has temporarily suspended the issuance of new visit visas” in a move “believed to be related to the second wave of COVID-19.”
Bestways Travel company south of Islamabad was skeptical. “With such specific age and gender limits, obviously this has nothing to do with the coronavirus,” agent Jamchit Agha said. He said it was more likely tied to security concerns, or fears about young men overstaying visas to find jobs in Dubai, the region’s financial hub. Dubai relies on millions of low-paid expat workers from Southeast Asia.
Several travel companies across Afghanistan also claimed the UAE had stopped issuing visas to citizens, without offering any explanation.
In Kenya, speculation has spread that the country landed on the UAE’s blacklist over a spate of fake certificates showing negative results on coronavirus tests used to travel to the UAE, resulting in 21 arrests Thursday. Four travel agencies in the capital Nairobi said they were seeking clarification from Emirati authorities after dozens of tourist visas were rejected. Travel