Changes to the Ministry of Hajj Rules for Umrah 2014
The Council of British Hajjis | www.cbhuk.org
Tuesday 4th March, 2014
From 30th May 2014 Umrah visas will be valid for 15 days from date of issue. The notice has been sent from the Saudi Embassy in London to all Hajj & Umrah agencies in the United Kingdom. The notice does not say how long this will last, but it is clear that the move is in order to reduce the number of pilgrims during Ramadan 2014 (possibly beyond) whilst the expansion of Masjid Al Haram is completed.
This may pose problems for both agents booking flights and accommodation for their passengers as well as individuals and families due to the time delay from when a passport is stamped with a visas to when the passenger receives their passports and is able to travel ultimately reducing the actual number of days they are able to spend in the holy cities. Furthermore, this is likely to encourage unscrupulous behaviour from some ‘would be’ agents who are likely to prey on pilgrim emotions and promise them visas in record time at a costs as we have seen in previous years which will not materialise.
We advise all pilgrims to book with Ministry of Hajj licensed tour operators and those who hold a valid Ait Travel Organisers License (ATOL) to ensure their bookings are protected. It is highly likely that the Ministry of Hajj may introduce further last minute rule changes (similar to last year which meant hundreds of families losing out both financially and spiritually as they did not receive the visas in time and therefore could not travel).
Agents will be under pressure to ensure that their pilgrims do not violate the new rule and leave Saudi Arabia within the 15 days. So if you’re one of those who books and plans their Umrah independently and have obtained visas from agents in the past for a nominal fee, chances are you will not only end up paying inflated prices for the visas but in most cases the agents will only sell you a package (as per their agreement with the Ministry of Hajj) and you may end up losing out on any flights or accommodation that you may have booked.
We would like encourage all travel to the Haramains for both Hajj and Umrah. However in light of the haram expansion and to ensure safety of pilgrims there will have to be a compromise for individuals and families on the duration of stay so that others can also perform Umrah during the holy months of Shaban and Ramadan.
To date there has been no retraction from the Ministry of Hajj on the 5 year rule for Hajj.
The reductions and enforcement has been as a direct result of the current Masjid Al Haram Expansion works which is due to be carried out over the next 2 years.
Many reputable Hajj & Umrah tour operators have indicated that they are likely to avoid Umrah during Ramadan due to the complexities of the 15 day visa. This may create a vacuum for unscrupulous activity.
Below is a list of things to check when booking a pilgrimage package.
Many licenced tour operators will have sold out their Ramadan Umrah packages by April 2014 and as early as June/July 2014 for Hajj, we want to make sure that you make the right decisions when booking a Hajj Package and select a reputable tour operator.
Here is a list of things you can do to ensure you select the right tour operator and to avoid any issues:
- Book with a Tour Operator who holds an ATOL. Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL). An ATOL ensures that your prepayments are protected and also provides for getting you back home if necessary in the event of the operator going bust. Check the Status of the tour operators ATOL at www.caa.co.uk or call 020 7453 6424.
- Demand an ATOL Certificate. From October 2012, when you book an ATOL protected holiday, you should be given an ATOL Certificate by your travel company as soon as you pay over any money for the holiday – even if this is only a deposit.
- Check that your travel agent/tour operator is accredited by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and deal directly with them. Those who are listed with the Ministry of Hajj have the allocated quotas and means to obtain the Hajj visa.
- Visit the Tour Operator at their offices. Ask neighbouring shops to see how long they have been operating. If the tour operator has propped up over the last few weeks, the chances are that they may be in it for a quick profit, in which exercise caution. Reputable business will have been operating for many years and will have ATOL, IATA and MoH licences.
- Check Companies House to see how long the business has been operating.
- Website are cheap and easy to setup, do not rely on them. Always check the above accreditation and licences and visit the operator at their offices.
- Get everything in writing and ask for and read the terms and conditions of the trip.
- Make payments by a Credit Card – this will ensure a paper trail and protect any payments in the event of non-delivery of products or services. Make part payment and balance on receiving all the necessary travel documentations (Passport, Visa, Airline tickets, Hotel Vouchers etc).
- Talk to your friends and relatives who may have knowledge or used the services of different tour operators and ask them for their recommendations.
- If there is an issue try to resolve this with the tour operator in the first instance, if this fails contact your local trading standards. If there is an issue whilst in Saudi Arabia then you can contact the Ministry of Hajj who have offices located in and around Makkah and in Jeddah (see below).
- DO NOT be swayed by last minute deals. If they look too good to be true they usually are.
In case of problems:
If the tour operator has disappeared with your money then this is fraud and you need to contact your local Police immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Support in Saudi Arabia:
- British Consulate-General, Jeddah: Jeddah 21411 P.O. Box 393 Tel: 02 622 5550 Fax: 02 622 6249
- Ministry of Hajj email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.haj.gov.sa freephone: 800 244 4480
- Ministry of Hajj (Makkah): 02 557 1714
- Ministry of Hajj (Jeddah): 02 665 5811 or 02 647 7551
- Emergencies in Saudi Arabia: Ambulance 997 Police 999
Support in the UK:
- UK FCO Consular Enquiries: Tel: (+44) 020 7008 1500
- Action Fraud Tel: 0300 123 2040 Website: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/beware-of-hajj-fraud-nov10
The Small Print:
All advice is given on a good will basis, in the interest of consumers and you must carry out your own due-diligence when booking a Hajj or Umrah package. CBHUK cannot be held liable for any losses sustained as a result of following any advice that maybe implied or otherwise stated.