A few days ago, just a month after signing a visa waiver agreement with Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had stopped issuing visas to citizens of 13 countries including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of these 13 countries are Muslim majority nations. The stated position at the time was that it was due to ‘security concerns’. As the circular to suspend issuing visas to as many as 13 countries came into effect from the 18th of November, Pakistan is one country that has been hit adversely by this visa ban. Reportedly, Pakistanis have lost over 3,000 jobs just within a week after the visa ban by UAE.
In the aftermath of the drastic decision, about 3000 Pakistanis have lost their job visas in the UAE. As per reports, a recruitment agency in Rawalpindi had alone witnessed a loss of 3000 jobs since the ban came into force. Pakistan, which has already been facing economic distress, is likely to suffer a huge loss.
While the visa ban was initially limited to tourist visas, it was later extended to employment and work visas. “As per the latest circular released by the Immigration Department Entry Permit Applications (for individuals outside the country), applications for new employment visa and new visit visa (long, short and tourist), will be suspended until further notice,” read a letter by the Dubai Airport Free Zone.
As of 2019, around 2.11 lac Pakistanis worked in the UAE and send annual foreign remittances of $4 billion. Along with Pakistan, 12 other countries with anti-Israel stand have been handed out ban on the issue of new visas. It is believed that Pakistan may witness similar visa bans from other Gulf countries in foreseeable future.
According to EurasiaTimes, In 2016, Pakistan sent 3,26,000 workers to the UAE, 2,90,000 in 2016, 2,75,000 in 2017, 2,08,000 in 2018, 2,11,000 in 2019 and even during the Covid-19 outbreak until October, 51,000 Pakistanis went to the Gulf country for employment.
Has UAE banned visas for Pakistan due to ‘security concerns’ and ‘Coronavirus concerns’?
There is an interesting aspect to the visa ban imposed by the UAE on Pakistan, according to Eurasia Times. According to the report, even before the relations between UAE and Israel were normalised, Israel had demanded that Pakistan accepts Israel and stops its tirade against the nation. In fact, Israeli newspaper Hareetz on August 11, 2020, titled ‘Pakistan’s Rejection of Israel Threatens Pakistani Lives’, indicated that Israel was willing to travel the distance if Pakistan did not recognise them as a nation.
Once the relations normalised between Israel and UAE and Pakistan refused to relent on its anti-Israel stand, to send a message, UAE had ‘gifted’ Israel and embassy on Pakistan’s Independence Day. When Pakistan still not yield, UAE put a ‘temporary’ hold on issuing visas to Pakistan.
Pakistan has reportedly been unable to come in terms with the decision of the UAE government. It is hoping for some relaxation as the ban was initially on tourist visas and supposedly linked to rising Coronavirus cases. However, Pakistan Senator Anwer Baig had highlighted that the ban was specific to Pakistan, which had lacs of workers in UAE.
While Pakistan tried to pass off the visa ban as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Eurasia Times notes that the reason they are trying to sell to their people is probably a hogwash since visas from several other countries, including India, is allowed. It would, therefore, make no sense to ban visas to only a handful of countries.
It is also interesting to note that all the 13 nations which have been debarred from entry into the UAE are Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and other Muslim countries, and what is common among these nations is that none of them have accepted Israel. The only exception in the list is perhaps Turkey, that at least has an Israeli embassy but their Islamist stand is not hidden to anyone.
UAE-Israel visa waiver agreement
What lends further credence to the theory that UAE has imposed a visa ban on Pakistan because of its anti-Israel stand, is the decision that comes right after the two nations (UAE and Israel) had signed a visa waiver agreement, allowing citizens of the countries to visit each other without requiring a visa.
The two countries had signed several agreements after the US-brokered peace agreement signed in September. Apart from the visa waiver, UAE and Israel had also signed agreements on cooperation in aviation, investment, science and technology. After signing the visa waiver agreement on October 19 in Tel Aviv, UAE had ratified it on 1st November, and Israel ratified the agreement on 23rd November. This is the first such agreement between an Arab nation and a Jewish nation.