Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Female UAE expats face new visa curbs to travel to Oman

From : Arabian Business

Non-GCC female UAE residents have been banned from travelling to parts of Oman without the permission of their employer or male relative.

The conservative UAE emirate Sharjah quietly introduced the new requirement last month. The regulation applies only at the Dibba border crossing with Oman, Sharjah’s only international land border, which is popular with UAE expats travelling to the picturesque Zighy Bay or joining a dhow cruise. It means female expats living in the UAE who do not have a passport from one of the other five Gulf Cooperation Council countries will need a no objection letter from their sponsor, typically either their employer or husband.

It does not apply to those on tourist visas.

The female visa follows a broader visa requirement introduced in September last year that requires every UAE resident that is not a GCC citizen to receive an Omani tourist visa in advance if they cross at Dibba. The restrictions are impacting on tourism operators near the Dibba border, many of whom rely on last minute bookings from UAE expats unaware of the new procedures. Sheesha Beach Travel and Tourism public relations manager Dylan Mangan said the new requirements were a “serious, serious” problem affecting the dhow cruise operator’s business, which relied on UAE expats for about 70 percent of its business.

“The majority of our business is from expats so it’s a huge, huge thing that’s going on. It’s driving us crazy,” Mangan said. The changes also were driving away business from large tour operators who were now choosing other activities to fill their itineraries. “We’ve got to get large numbers of people over the border and due to the new rules in place if all the passports, visas and letters etcetera aren’t given to us within a week of departure it’s even more difficult to get them across,” Mangan said. “It’s a serious headache in our eyes.”

Luxury resort Six Senses, on the shores of Zighy Bay, also is expecting the advance visa requirement to impact its business during the summer.
Spokeswoman Monica Majors said there had been little impact since the broader rule was introduced in September because majority of the resorts’ guests were from Europe and travelling on a tourist visa.

But they were concerned that the effects would be felt during summer when they relied on weekend escapes by UAE expats. Majors said many coming from the UAE booked at the last minute but that would now be too difficult, meaning the resort would lose business. Most potential clients were unaware of the new requirements and therefore did not book far enough in advance. “The problem is that they don’t publish the changes and regulations,” Majors said.
“We can’t entertain that last minute business because we won’t be able to assist our guests ... to ensure there are no issues at the border.”

The advance visa also is costing Six Senses Zighy Bay because the resort has chosen to process the visa free of charge for its clients in a bid to avoid any confusion at the border. A copy of the passport and UAE residence visa needs to be sent to the resort at least four days in advance. Women also need to send their letter of no objection, unless they are travelling with their husband, father or brother.

Sharjah authorities could not be reached for comment.

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