UAE: New Visa System Launches Amid Confusion


New visa system launches amid confusion over laws

ABU DHABI/DUBAI - JUL 30: The new visa system was inconsistently applied on day one, with some officials saying they did not have key information about the new rules.

The changes, which mainly affect non-exempt people from countries such as India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Russia, came into effect yesterday, but staff at Abu Dhabi International Airport and a major embassy said they had not received official notification of the new regulations, and were still working under the old rules. At Dubai International Airport officials said the rules were applied, although some requirements – such as compulsory health insurance – were waived because the necessary infrastructure was not in place.

People entering the UAE now must apply for a tourist visa, through a registered tourist company or hotel, a visit visa sponsored by a direct relative living in the UAE, or one of 14 other visa types, such as a conference or a medical visit visa.

Anyone wanting to work in the UAE needs a work permit sponsored by an employer. The regulations also require people to leave the country when any existing visa expires, and those seeking to re-enter immediately are unlikely to be granted another visitor visa.

The rules, from which 33 nations are exempted, are intended to give officials better information about people entering the country, including the specific reason they are here. A Ministry of Interior official said immigration departments had implemented the new system nationwide. “It has been applied across the board,” he said.

However, officials at centres affected by the changes such as embassies and airports said they had been unable to implement the new rules fully.

It was “business as usual” at Abu Dhabi airport, said an airline official who did not wish to be named because he was not authorised to comment. Airline staff, responsible for checking the validity of passengers’ visas before they board a plane, were not given clear instructions about the visa changes. The official said no one at the airport knew what the new policies were or whether immigration or airport staff should be collecting fees for tourist visas.

He also questioned whether immigration staff had installed the infrastructure for the changes.

“Whilst these proposed changes are well-intentioned, the way they have been communicated to date could certainly have been better. There appears to be an information vacuum regarding exactly when the changes come into force and, critically, what airport processes are being put in place to make them run smoothly,” he said.

“Clarification is urgently required on these matters so that the airport authorities and airlines can best advise passengers of how these changes will affect them.”

All passport systems at Dubai Residency and Naturalisation Department (DRND) border points were shut down for 10 minutes for the system changeover at 11.50pm on Monday.

Brig Obaid bin Suroor, the acting director of the DRND, said: “We supervised the transition at the Dubai International Airport departure and arrival passport control counters to ensure the switch was completed smoothly. The systems were switched off at exactly 11.50pm and restarted at 12.00am to handle the large number of passengers on both sides.”

According to the DRND, the main offices and centres also had a smooth transition to the new visa regime. “There were no issues to mention. We continue our campaign to raise awareness amongst the public and offer an overview of the requirements to our key strategic partners about the new amendments and the list of visas and prerequisites.”

The DRND assigned 44 extra IT staff to supervise and follow the transition process of the new system. Brig Suroor also formed a team of senior officers to answer queries from individuals, corporations and public relations officers about the new visa regulations.

The Indian Embassy said yesterday it had not received any official letter from the immigration office about the new visa rules. A spokesman said the only information it had was from media reports.

Travellers said they were largely unaffected by the changes and many passed through immigration on visas arranged under the old system. But some said they were concerned about the impact when the rules were fully implemented.

Tarik Shehzad, who was waiting with his family at the entrance to Abu Dhabi airport, said: “I haven’t a clue what is changing or what is going on.”

Another visitor, Mr Jai from India, said: “I came on a tourist visa expecting lots of problems but I walked through with no problems, which surprised me. My uncle applied for me a few weeks ago, so it was all organised for my arrival.”

A man representing a Jebel Ali-based electrical company who was waiting for 90 men to start work for the company in the free zone said there had been no difficulties getting them into the country.

“About half of them are out already,” he said outside the arrivals gate. “None of them have said anything about problems passing through. Our company’s HR department organised all their work visas. There are no problems if the paper work is in order.”

It was calm at the Al Hili border crossing between Al Ain and Buraimi in Oman. Hundreds of people made visa runs across the border before today, according to a hotel operator in the area.

“Daily, I normally have around 150 guests in the hotel, staying to change their [UAE] visas,” said Jamal al Safar, the manager of the Al Salam Hotel in Buraimi. “But, in the last few days, I have had around 250 people trying to change their visas before [yesterday].”

Inspectors find illegal rice cache

With rice prices hitting a 25-year high earlier this year, officials are keeping close watch on reserves.

SHARJAH - JUL 30: City inspectors searching a villa in the central Maysaloon district last week for signs that too many people were living there made an unexpectedly fragrant discovery: more than 2.5 tonnes of Indian basmati rice being illegally hoarded by the owner.

The unnamed man, the proprietor of a nearby grocery, allegedly planned to make a large profit by selling the rice at a significant markup during Ramadan, said municipal security officials, who are conducting a campaign to stop landlords illegally dividing their villas and renting out the spaces to multiple tenants.

The man has been charged with breaking Ministry of Economy rules on keeping basic foodstuffs and using a home for non-residential purposes and ordered to return the rice to his shop.

With rice prices hitting a 25-year high earlier this year, officials are keeping close watch on reserves, particularly as demand increases in the run-up to Ramadan. Rice importers have warned that a black market could develop as supplies – at their lowest level since 1976 – wane. Hoarding is believed to be exacerbating the shortage.

Mohammed Salem al Kaabi, the municipality’s head of security, said inspectors found 66 bags of rice, each weighing 40kg, in a divided section of the villa: “The total amount reached 2,640kg.”

In response to the worldwide rice shortage, India recently introduced a ban on exports of non-basmati strains.

There are reports that top-quality Indian rice is being smuggled into the UAE, and that low-grade strains from other countries are being sold as coming from South India. Last year, the UAE imported about 750,000 tonnes of rice from countries including India, Pakistan, Thailand and Egypt.

Meanwhile, the illegally stored rice was not the villa owner’s only problem. Inspectors found he had also cordoned off a separate section of the building to use “as a residence for 38 workers of some companies plus two families”, said Mr Kaabi.

The villa’s electricity and water have been cut off until the illegal tenants have been evicted by the owner, who was also fined Dh5,000 for the offence.

The inspectors also uncovered another villa in the neighbourhood that had been turned into a small clothing factory.

“Setting up illegal factories in residential areas is not only a violation of the emirate’s residential laws it is also dangerous for the residents.

“Look in terms of fighting fires, a residential area is very different to an industrial area,” said Mr Kaabi, who added that the owner of the second villa was fined Dh10,000 and had his water and power cut.

The municipality has ordered a policy of zero tolerance towards anyone breaking zoning laws.


‘Stigma’ delays cancer action

UAE - JUL 30: Patients diagnosed with cancer are seeking repeated medical opinions, delaying treatment and risking their lives because of a “stigma” associated with the disease.

Doctors say a diagnosis of cancer, or saratan in Arabic, is traditionally sensitive in many Arab nations, including the UAE, and many patients have worrying attitudes about the illness and subsequent life-saving treatments.

“Saratan in this culture holds a different meaning and connotation than the word ‘cancer’ in the West,” said Dr David Spence, the chair of the department of medicine at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“For people who haven’t been exposed to western medicine and thinking, there is still a thought that being diagnosed with saratan is similar to being given a death sentence. But this is wrong and it’s a bad mindset in the culture.”

Cancer rates are on the rise in the UAE and doctors say late diagnoses and treatment, in many cases, mean patients are dying from often treatable forms of the disease. Only about one-third of women diagnosed with breast cancer are in the early stages of the disease, according to estimates by cancer specialists. A late diagnosis means more invasive treatment and higher chances of death.

World Health Organisation figures reveal cancer is one of the biggest killers in the UAE, behind cardiovascular disease and accidents. One in 10 people who died in 2005 was killed by the disease.

Dr Spence said doctors would discuss the diagnosis with a patient and their family during several sessions.

“But the family normally resist understanding the diagnosis and want to take the patient for a second, third and fourth opinion. This can delay treatment,” he said.

Dr Ali Hindawi, a paediatrician at Al Hindawi Medical Centre, said the issue often originated from the medical profession.

“There is a problem in the Arab world compared to European countries,” he said. “Sometimes, doctors aren’t as direct with their patients as they need to be. This attitude applied not just to the diagnosis of cancer, but other serious conditions,” the paediatrician said.

“Another problem we face is the interference of families and relatives. We tell them first and the patient, but sometimes the relatives interfere and don’t want us to tell the patient right away. It’s not right; we need professionals to be in charge.”

Dr Tahani Mustafah, an Abu Dhabi psychologist, said doctors must learn to approach patients appropriately, from the diagnosis to the treatment process.

“There is definitely a bit of a problem in discussing the dangers of cancer due to the stigma in our societies,” said Dr Mustafah, who works at Khalifa Medical City.

“Doctors don’t like to tell the patient [about cancer]; it shocks them, and it becomes an unnecessarily dramatic ordeal afterwards.”

She said it was vital that cancer patients were equipped with the information to deal with cancer as a “new part of their life instead of hiding it away as a social stigma and not discussing it”.

Dr Spence said:“The superstitious understanding of saratan is different from the modern understanding of the disease.”

Patients need to know that many forms of the disease are treatable and curable.

“The implication of the word is not the same as it might have been 50 years ago, when there was no treatment in this part of the world.”

However, health professionals warned that, as in any culture, the diagnosis of a serious illness must be treated carefully.

“You need to be 100 per cent sure before telling a patient any news,” said Dr Mohammed Bahnasawy, a consultant dermatologist at Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“There is no rush and no need to affect the patient’s mental or emotional state without being sure ... the word saratan is scary to everyone, whether it is in Arabic or not.”

The Ministry of Health recently released a proposal for a new cancer research centre in Abu Dhabi, where specialists hope to bring together expertise and information from around the Gulf to improve outcomes for people diagnosed with the disease.

Dr Adel Anis Hajj, the head of oncology at Cedars Jebel Ali International Hospital, said recently that researchers had to find out what the most common cancers were, what the risk factors related to those cancers were and how awareness campaigns could be adapted to make more people aware of them.

Presently, doctors believe the most common cancers are breast, prostate, colorectal and skin cancers.

Dubai acts to cut high-rise accidents

Inspectors from Dubai Municipality have found at least 12 safety violations a day during their visits to work sites.

DUBAI - JUL 30: All construction firms will have to comply with stricter safety regulations for labourers working on tall buildings or face being fined or blacklisted, officials said yesterday.

Nearly half the accidents at building sites in recent years have involved workers falling from high-rise buildings, resulting in serious injuries and even death, according to official statistics.

Dubai Municipality acted after its inspectors found a large number of safety violations during visits to work sites. They have been finding at least 12 violations a day, officials said.

Construction companies will now have to meet safety standards set in a new rule book issued by the municipality or face fines of up to Dh50,000 (US$13,624) and even banning. The main changes involve safety requirements for workers on tall buildings.

Essa al Maidour, the assistant director general for planning and building affairs, said the manual resulted from the municipality’s “great concern for safety issues and a need to introduce future standards for the same”. It outlines general and specific safety procedures for all types of construction and demolition work along with associated jobs.

According to municipality statistics, workers falling from high-rise buildings accounted for 45 per cent of the 865 construction industry accidents in Dubai from 2004 to 2007. Nearly 48 per cent of last year’s 249 work site accidents involved people falling from buildings.

“We have dedicated four chapters in our new safety manual just to this particular issue,” Mr Maidour said.

“This is a serious concern for us and we believe that the consultant as well as the contractor is responsible for these accidents.”

The municipality was making random checks to ensure the regulations were observed, he said.

Other accidents included collapses at work sites, which accounted for 23 per cent of the total, incidents involving cranes and other machinery (14 per cent) and fire and electric shock (seven per cent).

Municipality officials said companies had been caught violating basic safety rules such as not providing helmets for workers, failing to erect safety barriers and allowing men to work on high rises without protection.

Fawzi Mohammed al Shehi, the acting director of the building department at Dubai Municipality, said some firms committing safety violations had already been ordered to stop work for several days.

“Last month, we collected fines of Dh1.5 million from construction companies for violating safety and not maintaining working standards specified by the municipality,” he said.

At present, 15 inspectors check an average of 150 sites every day. But the municipality plans to triple the number of inspectors in a few months, Mr Shehi said.

According to Mr Maidour, the new safety regulations are part of the municipality’s plan to introduce a complete legal framework in line with its Strategic Plan 2007-2011. Authorities had consulted US and Canadian safety regulations while drawing them up, he said.

The manual included new fire safety precautions to counter the number of fires at buildings under construction, officials said.

Mr Shehi said: “The consultants and contractors have to give top priority for early installation of permanent fire protection devices and to arranging water tanks and water pumps at construction sites to put out fires … This is applicable even if the building is complete and ready for occupation.”

The manual also outlines general safety rules and defines the roles and responsibilities of employers, consultant engineers, contractors and sub-contractors regarding safety issues. It lists minimum safety requirements and arrangements to be made for them during all phases of construction. The manual will be available in both English and Arabic.

Asked about work site accidents that have gone unnoticed and have not been reported to the municipality, Mr Maidour said: “It is the responsibility of the consultant and the contractor to report any accident. Companies which do not report cases have been fined and will continue to face penalties.”

The manual emphasises that every contractor should appoint safety officers at work sites based on the number of workers and the size of the site.




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