A number of Umrah companies have been accused of selling Umrah visas through their agents who work outside the Kingdom.
Many Umrah performers plan to overstay in the Kingdom after their visas have expired eyeing odd jobs. However, Umrah companies, responsible for the return of all Umrah performers under their care, do not seem to care about Saudi visa laws.
“External agents of Umrah companies sell visas to brokers for SR 800 to SR 1,000 each. Brokers then sell visas to Umrah performers for around SR 25,000 each,” said Farooq Al-Khateeb, professor of economy at King Abdulaziz University.
This usually entails a package price, including food, housing and transport to Makkah and Madinah. “There is no clear system of restrictions for Umrah companies that grant visas,” he said. Saad Al-Qurashi, president of the Haj and Umrah Committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that agents of Umrah companies should be careful in dealing with people who seek Umrah visas as a means to stay in Saudi Arabia illegally.
“Selling Umrah visa is illegal and the Ministry of Haj will close any Umrah company violating the Umrah visa system,” he added.
“The Ministry of Haj will also cancel bank accounts of Umrah companies that violate the Umrah visa law and refuse to take responsibility for the timely repatriation of Umrah performers,” he said.
Many of the Umrah visa overstayers are from Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, India and some African countries. Some of them prefer to become beggarswhile others work as barbers or do odd jobs that do not require them to carry iqamas.
A Yemeni beggar in Jeddah told Arab News: “I would stay temporarily in the Kingdom to earn some money. I have paid 15,000 Egyptian Pounds (SR 8,400) to get an Umrah visa. I have to earn money to cover my cost of buying the visa. I have spent one year in Jeddah and I hope to continue earning more money for the next six months.”
Abdullah Al-Qadi, vice-president of the National Committee for Haj and Umrah, said pilgrims who overstayed their visas, caused the closure of more than 190 Umrah companies. This led to the dismissal of their more than 10,000 Saudi employees.
“In 2012, over 11,000 Umrah performers overstayed their visas, out of the more than 5.6 million Umrah pilgrims who entered the Kingdom since the Umrah season resumed early last year,” Al-Qadi told a local newspaper.
Source: Arab News
JEDDAH: IBRAHIM NAFFEE
Monday 10 June 2013
Last Update: 10 June 2013 1:56 am