Umrah mecca saudi
Muslim worshippers perform the Umrah pilgrimage walk between the Marwa and Safa hills at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca on March 23, 2023 on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: More than a month after the onset of the new season for Umrah or lesser pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom has seen “a significant increase” in the numbers of overseas pilgrims mainly due to visa facilities, a Saudi official has said.

“The significant increase monitored in the numbers of Umrah pilgrims this season has come from all countries. But the highest percentage came from Pakistan, Indonesia and India, Iraq, Yemen and Bangladesh,” Saudi Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfatah Mashat added without giving specific figures.

“For sure, the period ahead will witness a further increase in the numbers of Umrah pilgrims coming from all over the world due to the facilities offered for obtaining the visa, communicating with the service providers and the rise in the numbers of the companies operating in the Umrah services,” he told Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The official also cited expansions to the capacity of Islam’s two holiest sites: the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

The Umrah season began at the onset of the New Islamic Hijri year after the end of annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage that around 1.8 million Muslims attended for the first time in three years after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.

Muslims, who cannot physically or financially afford Hajj, go to Saudi Arabia to undertake Umrah at the Grand Mosque.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has introduced a host of facilities for overseas Muslims to come to the country to do Umrah.

Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourist visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is located at the Prophet’s Mosque after booking an e-appointment.

Saudi authorities have extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport. Women pilgrims are no longer required to be escorted by male guardians.

The kingdom has also said that expatriates residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, and be able to perform Umrah.

Last month, Saudi Arabia added eight more countries to the visit e-visa system, allowing their nationals to come to the kingdom for Umrah and tourism, raising the total number of countries whose citizens have access to this entry service to 57.

Holders of the Schengen, US and UK visas can also book appointments for Umrah and visiting Al Rawda Al Sharifa, via the Nusuk app before arrival in Saudi Arabia.