Bahrain mulls new visa rules
Manama, April 18, 2012
Bahrain is considering introduction of new visa rules that mirror the policies of foreign countries when dealing with Bahraini visitors, said a top government official.
MPs yesterday voted unanimously in favour of the proposal, which would either make it harder or easier for foreigners to enter the country - depending on where they are from.
However, they also want the Foreign Ministry to pressure diplomatic missions in Bahrain to grant the same access to Bahrainis travelling abroad as foreigners coming here, either to visit or to work.
Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and national security committee chairwoman MP Sawsan Taqawi said the French Embassy was urging Bahrainis planning to travel to Europe on a Schengen visa to apply three months before travel.
"The French Embassy doesn't care if those travelling are going for medical treatment or for leisure and there are other genuine cases in which people are in need of visas for official business and they are not getting it on time," she said.
"Bahrain gives European nationals visas within 72 hours for BD7 and for periods of more than a month.
"In 2010, Qatar started dealing with the French as they do with its nationals and the French Embassy opened an office at Doha International Airport to help Qataris with their visas to visit France and other European countries on an urgent basis."
However, services committee chairman MP Adel Al Asoomi argued that Europe and the US were under pressure from millions trying to enter their territories, meaning they needed time to process applications and conduct security checks.
"European countries and the US are not the subject of debate here, despite their lengthy delays," he said.
"We should be trying to ensure that nationals of certain countries that don't benefit the Bahraini economy or tourism don't get an easy way into the country.
"Bahrain has to think of ways to ease visa access and not make it more difficult if it wants to refresh the economy and tourism. There has to be a list of unwanted nationals who should undergo extensive visa checks before being allowed in. But that doesn't mean that our calls for equal treatment in visas are not genuine, considering that we are peaceful and have no terrorist intentions anywhere."
Parliament's human rights committee chairman and financial and economic affairs committee vice-chairman, Mahmood Al Mahmood, claimed Bahrainis were being humiliated in European embassies that issue the Schengen visa.
"In one of those embassies known to everyone, an employee threw papers into the applicant's face in disrespect and a degrading manner," he said.
MP Abdulhameed Al Meer added that Bahrainis respected European countries, but the sentiment was not returned.
"Bahrainis spend millions in Europe, but in return they are being subject to pain and agony to get visas - despite European countries needing their presence either for leisure, business or education," he said.
However, General Directorate for Nationality, Passports and Residence Assistant Under-Secretary Shaikh Ahmed bin Isa Al Khalifa said restricting visa access to foreigners was a step backwards.
He added that Bahrain was the first Gulf country to start providing easy access in 1996 to develop tourism and business.
"Other GCC countries followed our initiative, developed it and from that the idea for ease of mutual movement between GCC member states was introduced in 1990," he said.
"We assess visa applications and they are not given as a certainty to individuals of a certain nationality. It's a backward step to introduce restrictions on visas and oblige the government to have equal treatment, because it would certainly affect tourism and trade in the country."
The matter will now go before the Cabinet for a final decision. – TradeArabia News Service