Visa red-tape hurting firms, says Dubai Chamber chief

Gulf emirate needs revamp of visa laws to reduce toll on businesses, says Hamad Buamim
Dubai Chamber head Hamad Buamim said the emirate must revamp visa laws
By Elizabeth Broomhall
Tue 22 Nov 2011 08:55 AM

Lengthy and costly visa applications are squeezing businesses and
taking a toll on profits, the man charged with overseeing the interests
of Dubai’s private sector said Monday.

Bureaucratic red tape has become a burden for firms
operating in the Gulf emirate, with many running up significant tabs to absorb
the cost of securing visas for staff and investors, said Hamad Buamim, director
general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).

“I have no doubt that relaxing visa processes would help businesses
to profit,” he said on the sidelines of the 5th Arabian Business forum in
Dubai
.

“There are too many restrictions related to the time, the cost,
and the process in general. We want business people to look at things long-term.
[The law] has to be reviewed.”

[Click here for pictures from the forum]

The cost of securing visas has become a recurring complaint among
both large and smaller businesses in Dubai, as firms have struggled to contain
overheads in the tough economic climate.

During a retail forum organised by DCCI in October, some of
the city’s largest conglomerates warned that escalating visa and business costs
could force an increase in the sale price of goods in the emirate.

 “Doing business is
getting more and more expensive, and we have to look at that,” said Mohi-Din
BinHendi, president of BinHendi Enterprises.

“I think everyone knows how expensive it is to get your
employees across. Bringing a person here costs me AED9,000, and I have almost
1,800 staff.”

Khalid Al Tayer, CEO of Al Tayer Retail Group, said visa
costs were a significant burden.

“Unfortunately over time, the costs do seem to get out of
hand and need to be monitored very closely,” he said. “We need to start
renewing [visas] every three years, and our retail operation has close to 3,500
people. That can become quite costly.”

DCCI was one of the first trade bodies to oppose a controversial
ruling from the UAE government last year that effectively cut expatriate residence
visas from three years to two. 

The ruling, which reduced labour card validity and had a knock-on
effect on residence visas, meant an added cost for businesses in an already
tough economic climate, said Buamim.

The body has lobbied the government to return labour card validity
to three years for low-skilled workers and stretch it to five years for investors,
in a bid to ramp up foreign investment in the emirate.

“We’re trying to bring it back to where it was and introduce a
different system for the investors – right now they are treated almost like
labourers,” he said.

“When you [are talking about an employee] that’s a short-term
thing but an investor is here for a longer term. This is at the top of our
agenda,” he said, adding the Chamber hoped the ruling would be pushed through
within two years.

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