Hajj and Umrah e-visas to be issued in minutes

The electronic platform will include new services that will give non-Saudis access to the e-portal, where they can review service packages, choose a package and apply for visas electronically. (AFP/ File photo)
Updated 12 March 2019

Hajj and Umrah e-visas to be issued in minutes

  • New service to boost number of pilgrims, says official
  • e-portal will allow pilgrims to review service packages and apply for visas electronically

RIYADH: Electronic visas for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims will be issued within minutes for various Hajj/Umrah campaigns and companies under plans by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

“Pilgrims who are coming from outside the Kingdom are tied to Hajj and Umrah service-providing companies and agents in order to obtain a visa. The electronic visas will be issued to these entities who will be licensed to facilitate Hajj and Umrah in these countries,” Abdulrahman Shams, an adviser to the minister of Hajj and Umrah and general supervisor of Hajj and Umrah’s electronic platform, said on MBC.

Shams said the electronic platform will include new services that will give non-Saudis access to the e-portal, where they can review service packages, choose a package and apply for visas electronically.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior to issue visas electronically, within minutes of completing the required forms, and without the need for passports to go through embassies,” he said.

The move will help encourage greater numbers of pilgrims, he added. Saudi Arabia has issued over 4.33 million Umrah visas this year. The ministry’s move helps facilitate pilgrims’ journeys and minimizes pre-planning. Under Vision 2030, the Kingdom hopes to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them with top-class services.

In January, the ministry updated its online portal to support foreign pilgrims. Almost 1.1 million Muslims used the Maqam online portal in its trial phase last year, allowing them to choose between more than 30 companies providing travel and accommodations for trips to Makkah and Madinah.

The ministry has been discussing incorporating e-services since November 2018.

Abdulaziz Al-Wazzan, the deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, said the initiative aims to make visas more accessible to pilgrims, while also contributing to an increase in pilgrim numbers.


Resumption of international flights draws mixed expat reaction

Expatriate community in Saudi Arabia are waiting impatiently for this good news of flights to resume. (SPA)
Updated 53 min 21 sec ago

Resumption of international flights draws mixed expat reaction

  • International flights to and from the Kingdom were suspended on March

RIYADH: The decision to allow international travel to and from the Kingdom has evoked mixed reactions in the expatriate community.

The decision by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior to allow expatriates who have exit and entry visas as well as visit visas to travel across borders on Sept. 13 came as a relief for many expats who are used to vacationing in their home countries.

Although many are excited about the news as their wait to visit relatives and friends has come to an end, there are others who are opting to stay in the Kingdom, fearful of the return of restrictions — as well as of coronavirus infection in their own countries.

Faiz Al-Najdi, a Pakistani expatriate working as a consultant on a project with the Royal Commission at Yanbu, told Arab News: “It’s a sigh of relief, especially for the expatriates that international flights have been resumed by the Saudi government with certain conditions.”

“The expatriate workers and their families have been waiting impatiently for this good news of flights to resume since they were shut down six months ago,” he said.

International flights to and from the Kingdom were suspended on March 15 as part of preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, but as the situation has improved countries around the world are beginning to open up. Saudi Arabia has also reviewed its coronavirus travel policies, resuming international flights with conditions.

Al-Najdi said: “As I see it there are people with varied opinions. There are families who want to fly back home and are happy to reunite with their relatives and friends; so are those who were stranded in their home countries and were not able to return to the Kingdom. This includes those expatriate workers who wanted to return and rejoin their jobs here.”

However, there are some who were skeptical, he said. “Although they can fly home they want to stay put here as they feel far safer compared to being in their respective countries due to COVID-19 getting out of control back home.”

“In my opinion it’s a good and commendable step by the Saudi government and I welcome this decision,” he said.

Akhtarul Islam Siddiqui, an Indian expatriate in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Even though I love my home country India, as a Kingdom-lover too I prefer to stay with my family here in this pandemic situation. I am more worried for my two daughters who are stranded in India, where the number of cases are among the highest worldwide.”

Rafiul Akhter, an Indian expat who is a finance professional working with the Advanced Electronics Co. Ltd, Riyadh, said: “Living away from family, friends and home country is often the hardest part of being an expatriate. News of the resumption of international flight from Saudi Arabia is a ray of hope to boost my energy levels.”

“The Saudi government handled this pandemic so promptly. I’m blessed to be safe in Saudi Arabia, but on the other hand I am worried about my motherland where my family is facing this pandemic all alone and feeling so helpless that I could not be there to support them,” he said.

“Now that I can travel to my loved ones, there are a few facts that have got muddled in all of the enthusiasm about the conditions of returning to Saudi Arabia that require some clearing up. I hope that in the coming days the confusion is cleared and we, the expats, can plan a stress-free trip to our loved ones,” he said.

Since schools resumed virtual classes after the summer break, many expats have opted to stay for the sake of their children’s schooling and will not travel at least till the winter break. However, it is a good news for those whose family is back in their home country.

Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, a Sri Lankan doctor in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are ecstatic to see our fellow Sri Lankan expats returning to our motherland safe and sound.”

“COVID-19 took from us many things that are irreplaceable, but it also gave us the opportunity to realize the little things in life, like being close to family. I am glad that soon they will all be together with their loved ones,” she said.