Dubai: The Saudi Ministry of Haj has announced that the deadline for Umrah visa applications from around the world will end on Tuesday.
In a letter signed by the Director-General of Umrah services at the ministry, Abdul Aziz Damanhouri, and quoted in several press reports, as saying the deadline will be in effect at 11.59pm on July 17, which will be also Sha’aban 27.
“This is a routine procedure, that is taken every year,” said a Saudi diplomat contacted by Gulf News for more clarifications on the announcement.
“Every year, we are requested not to accept any visa application for Umrah” said Adnan Al Zubei, head of “Shahba’a organisers”, one of the Umrah organisers in Dubai.
In the past, however, applications sent before the end of the working hours of Sha’aban 28 were accepted, he told Gulf News.
The applications usually are not accepted directly by the Saudi embassies and consulates. They are applied, rather, through specified offices and designated Umrah organisers in different countries.
Applications are sent online to the Saudi Haj Ministry. Once the approval is received, the concerned organiser has 14 days to apply for the visa at the Saudi consulate. It takes 7 to 14 days to get a visa.
According to estimates, the number of Umrah performers this year could hit 5.5 million, recording an increase of five to 10 per cent from the previous year. Last year, nearly 5.2 million Umrah visas were issued, according to Saudi officials.
The UAE was not an exception. “Yes, we have noticed an increase in the number of Umrah applications,” added Al Zubei.
For example, the number last year was nearly 100,000 applications, and this year it is more than that, he added without giving any figures as the season has not yet finished.
“But all organisers that I know of has exceeded their quota this year,” he said.
Umrah season which starts in Safar, the second month in the Islamic calendar, until the end of Shaba’an. No Umrah visas are issued after Ramadan, when arrangements for Haj start.
The Saudi authorities and the infrastructure at Makkah and Madinah are capable of receiving the increased number of Umrah performers, Saudi officials said.
Meanwhile, Saudi press reports quoted the Minister of Haj Bandar Hajjar as saying the ministry is working on 22 new projects to improve facilities for the pilgrims.
The plans come hand in hand with a recent cabinet decision to enhance Haj and Umrah services over the next 25 years.
“Until July 1, about 3.8 million Umrah pilgrims entered the Kingdom, which is an increase of 400,000 compared to the same period last year,” the minister said. “Currently there are 290,000 pilgrims in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. The rest have already returned to their countries.”
“A negative phenomenon that the Kingdom faces each year is the large amount of pilgrims that remain in the holy city of Makkah, even after they have completed their religious duties,” a Saudi press report said.
However, the number of overstayers has decreased significantly this year because of the new regulation, the Saudi minister said.
There were 450,000 Umrah overstayers in 2005, but the number has been brought down to 24,000 last year, he added.