A hand-written Pakistani passport. Pakistanis applying for a new residence visa should have a machine-readable passport. Image Credit: Devadasan/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE has stopped issuing visas to Pakistanis holding handwritten passports, a senior official told Gulf News on Tuesday.

The decision will affect Pakistanis who plan to travel to the UAE and Pakistani expatriates already in the country who plan to apply for a new visa after cancelling their existing visas in order to change jobs or sponsors, said Major General Nasser Al Awadi Al Menhali, Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Interior for Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs.

Those who apply for a new visa should have an electronic passport, he said.

Exempt

The official made it clear the decision will not affect the renewal of residence visas by Pakistanis in the UAE who currently hold manual passports.

Pakistanis in the UAE can renew their residence visa until the expiry of their manual passports, Al Menhali said. "But they have to get a machine-readable passport [an electronic passport] while they are renewing the manual passport," he explained.

The Pakistan embassy told Gulf News that the decision was unlikely to affect many Pakistanis who live in the UAE, as most hold updated passports. However, it will affect a large number of Pakistanis who live in other countries and wish to visit the UAE, as most of them hold handwritten passports.

Al Menhali said the UAE Government's decision applied to Pakistanis who reside in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, although it was not enforced during Ramadan and Eid.

Ramadan exception

"But under the instructions of Lieutenant General Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, we permitted all Pakistanis holding manual passports to enter the UAE during Ramadan and Eid [as an exception]," he said. Shaikh Saif added that the new rules should not deter Pakistanis from other countries visiting relatives or friends in the UAE during Ramadan and Eid, Al Menhali said.

"We have decided to implement the decision strictly after Eid but we will consider the emergency cases and humanitarian issues as instructed by Shaikh Saif," he said.

The recent decision was made for security reasons, the official added. "Pakistan had started issuing electronic passports and the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi had requested the UAE government [through the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs] to take steps to discourage manual passports as part of controlling fake passports," Al Menhali explained, adding that the UAE Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs will coordinate with the Pakistani Embassy in converting all manual passports into electronic passports,

The Pakistan Embassy in the UAE did not wish to comment on Al Menhali's claim that it had requested the UAE government to discourage the use of manual passports.

"We have been receiving complaints from Pakistanis [living in the GCC and other countries] for more than a month, saying that they were denied entry to the UAE for not having machine-readable passports," Farhat Ayesha, Second Secretary at the passports section of the embassy told Gulf News on Tuesday. The UAE Foreign Ministry was not available for comment.


Eid plans scuppered

Some Pakistani residents in Saudi Arabia complained that they were not allowed to board flights to the UAE during Eid because their passports were not machine-readable.

Naeem Bazidpuri said Emirates Airline staff denied him boarding the flight from Jeddah to Dubai on September 8. He planned to celebrate Eid with his two sons and their families in Dubai.

"But when I reached the airport [ King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah] the airline staff denied boarding pass, saying I was carrying a manual passport", he told Gulf News.

Emirates Airline said in a statement issued to Gulf News: "In line with the recent mandate from UAE Immigration, all airlines...are not permitted to check-in and board Pakistani nationals travelling to the UAE with a hand-written passport. Exceptions are made only for those holding a valid UAE residency, employment visa or visit visa issued prior to 23 August 2010."

Those affected by visa denials:

1. Pakistanis visiting the UAE from other countries, including GCC nations (because most of the Pakistan missions abroad still issue manual passports).

2. Pakistanis in the UAE applying for new visas after cancelling their existing visas.

Those unaffected by visa denals:

1. Residence visa renewals for Pakistanis in the UAE (they can do it until the expiry of their manual passports).

2. Newcomers from Pakistan (the embassy says almost all of them carry electronic passports).