I applied for a United Arab Emirates (UAE) visa after winning a free ticket to Sharjah, courtesy of Air Arabia in Riyadh. I got the visa application from the UAE Embassy, filled it in, and submitted it with a letter of introduction from my employer and other relevant documents, including a copy of Air Arabia’s letter declaring me the winner of a free trip to Sharjah.
The receptionist in the consular section looked at the documents, collected the visa fee and asked me to come back on a specified date.
When I went back, however, I had a rude shock. The clerk told me that my application had been rejected. Reason: No visa for a journalist. He refunded my money.
Very strange indeed. Thanks to Arab News, I have been to many countries in the East and West and have never had a problem with a visa. When I applied to the US Embassy for a visa for a three-day visit in 2002, they gave me a ten-year multiple-entry visa.
The British Embassy provided a visa without an interview and the Australian Embassy gave me a multiple entry visa when I applied for a single entry one in 1999.
And here I was — struggling for a visa to visit the UAE.
When I informed the editor in chief of Arab News, he was equally surprised. He decided to write a personal letter to the UAE Embassy’s consular section requesting a visa for me.
He mentioned that I had been with Arab News for 25 years and armed with his letter, I went to the embassy and re-submitted my application.
The receptionist did not even bother to forward the letter to the consular official. Rather, he rejected it on the spot, saying, “No visas for journalists.”
When I returned to the office, I asked our administration to contact the UAE Embassy. A recorded message there listed the categories of applicants eligible for visas. Among them are doctors, engineers, programmers and other professionals, but no journalists.
The recorded message raises some questions. Doctors, it says, are eligible. As I stood waiting in the queue, however, I saw the consular section reject the application of a doctor from Azerbaijan on the grounds that he could get a visa at the airport but would not be given one for traveling by bus with his family.
Even though the doctor said that it would be very expensive for him to travel by air with his entire family, his application was rejected.
What I want to know is whether the role of journalists, especially expatriates, is confined to merely promoting the Dubai Shopping Festival or events of interest to the government? Are we not entitled, as Gulf residents, to a visitor’s visa for sightseeing purposes? If not, on what basis does a veritable army of journalists report from Dubai? How did scores of journalists get into the UAE for the July 23 wedding of Javed Miandad’s son with the daughter of one of India’s most wanted man, Dawood Ibrahim?
My own guess is that the Ambassador is perhaps unaware of what is going on in the consular section where arbitrary decisions are being made.
Never mind that in the end, I traveled to the UAE on a transit visa — after a great deal of inconvenience. I would certainly appreciate an answer, Your Excellency.