Kuwait’s decision to suspend commercial visit visas to curb a rise in expatriate workers may signal the start of a Gulf-wide clampdown on entry rules, a security expert has said.
Gulf states may look to tighten visa restrictions in a bid to sidestep the political unrest that swept Bahrain and Oman earlier this year, but was partly blamed on the influence of foreign groups.
“It is important to realise across the GCC states there is a national security concern about expat labour,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at Dubai’s Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“Kuwait is in a very interesting situation because of what is going on in Syria and the Arab Spring. Seeing what happened in Bahrain, they don’t want that happening in their own country.
“We have seen a number of attempts by the GCC states to alter their visa systems on very short notice. Many times this is done because of security, but also because of seeking new methods to halt the flow of particular individuals in and out of countries,” he added.
A number of Gulf states have tightened their border security in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, and caused widespread unrest in Bahrain.
Kuwait in May barred nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan from entering the country over fears political instability in those nations could pose a risk to its security.
Bahrain’s flag carrier Gulf Air also suspended flights to Lebanon, Iran and Iraq in March at the height of its uprising, after what was described as “irresponsible comments” by the countries.
The Gulf state has repeatedly spoken out against “blatant Iranian meddling”, which led to the expulsion of Iran’s charge d'affaires in March.
Kuwait last week reportedly unveiled plans to halt commercial visa visas over fears rising numbers of expats were using them to enter the country, before transferring them to work permits to secure residency. The trend was creating a surge in ‘marginal’ foreign workers, Kuwaiti labour minister Dr Mohammad Al Afasi was reported as saying.
Karasik said such measures were likely to increase following Ramadan in anticipation of a resurgence in anti-government protests across the Arab world.
“These countries are all preparing for the post-Ramadan political season and it is rumoured it is going to be quite hot,” he said. “I think you are going to see these types of measures and more being put in place. How long they will be in place is another question but we will see more restrictions going up in order to control population.”
Marcello Nisi, operation manager at Kuwait Tourism Services (KTS), said the travel industry was still in the dark over the anticipated suspension of the visas from September 1, but said it would primarily mean tourists would need to apply for a visa ahead of travelling to Kuwait.
“At the moment [visitors] arrive at the airport and they pay and get their visa in about half an hour… all that will happen is they will do it before. You request a visa either through a sponsor or through the hotel where you are staying and they send you the cover for the visa,” he said.
“Certainly it is annoying but it will not affect the business altogether.”
Qatar last year attempted to scrap its visa-on-arrival facility for residents of 33 countries, including the UK and US, but later rejected the plan after appeals for the affected states.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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