Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Daily Times editorial Sept 20, 2012

UAE visa restrictions The UAE has announced that visitors from South Asian countries that export labour to the country will from now on require a university degree to get a tourist visa. The UAE has imposed this restriction in order to fight an illegal influx of people who arrive on tourist visas and then stay on to seek employment. Categories of blue-collar workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines affected by the new rule include electricians, pipe fitters, masons, farmers, drivers, tailors and cleaners. These categories comprise the core of labour immigration into the Gulf state. A UAE official explained that the measure would reduce the risk that individuals engaged in organised crime or the trafficking of persons could gain entry to the country. Tourist visas are usually arranged through hotels, airlines or travel agents. Tourism has grown rapidly in the UAE, especially the shopping paradise called Dubai, where the number of tourists increased to 9.3 million in 2011, up 10 percent on the previous year, despite the economic woes that the Gulf states suffered along with much of the rest of the world as a result of the global economic recession. Tourism aside, the UAE hosts millions of foreign workers, mostly from South Asian countries. Western expatriates on the other hand have dwindled in the aftermath of the recession. Nevertheless, the expatriate population dominates the UAE, comprising 8.2 million or 88.53 percent of the total population in 2010. When the UAE first emerged onto the world stage in the 1970s, the building boom drew in millions of construction and ancillary trades workers. Service providers followed in their wake. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiated the policy of loosening the procedure for obtaining a passport and finding employment in the booming Gulf. While the UAE benefitted from this influx of workers, Pakistan soon found itself short on skilled tradesmen. The expatriate workers’ remittances bolstered Pakistan’s balance of payments and brought relative prosperity to millions of families back home. Of course those good times are long gone, but even the residual opportunities in the Gulf are a tempting prize for Pakistani and South Asian workers. The availability of work visas naturally decreased as the economic boom slowed and then went into decline, if not crisis. The UAE’s latest announcement indicates a growing problem of those seeking employment gaining entry on tourist visas and then staying on illegally to search for jobs. With the latest restrictions, the apprehension is that just as happened with so many elected representatives when Musharraf’s regime imposed the condition of a graduate degree to run for elections, and which gave rise to a veritable industry churning out fake degrees, this roadblock to entry to the UAE may be circumvented by some unscrupulous elements through fake degrees. If the UAE’s checks reveal any such occurrence, it will sully the name of Pakistan and bring further ignominy on our heads.

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