ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has suspended issuance of work or employment visas to 13 Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan, a move people associated with recruitment agencies warn could negatively affect the country’s economy.

In fact, since the ban came into effect on 18 of November, one recruitment agency alone in Rawalpindi has lost 3,000 jobs which have now been diverted to India by its client. Initially, it was reported that the suspension was only limited to visit visas but the UAE authorities now confirmed that work and employment visas have also been banned till further notice.

A letter issued by the Dubai Airport Free zone says: “As per the latest circular released by the Immigration Department Entry Permit Applications [for individuals outside the country] including applications for new employment visa and new visit visa [long, short and tourist] will be suspended until further notice.”

The countries that have been affected by the ban include Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Yemen to the name the few. A Foreign Office statement last week suggested that the ban was only on visit visas and believed to be linked to the second wave of Covid-19.

However, a report appeared quoting unnamed official claimed the move was linked to security concerns, although those security concerns were not elaborated. Sources in Islamabad said Pakistan was not formally intimated about the suspension. Authorities have been trying to reach out to the UAE authorities to ascertain the reason.

If the novel coronavirus was the reason behind ban, India should have been in the list since it has reported one of the highest cases in the world, commented Senator Anwar Baig, who runs a recruitment agency. Baig was of the view that suspension of work or employment visas were worrisome and he believed that the ban was “Pakistan specific”.

The UAE is home to tens of thousands of Pakistani workers, who have been employed in different sectors and send foreign remittances considered key to the country’s foreign exchange reserves. Giving break up, Senator Baig said that in 2016 Pakistan sent 326,000 workers to the UAE, 290,000 in 2016, 275,000 in 2017, 208,000 in 2018, 211,000 in 2019 and even during the Covid-19 outbreak until October 51,000 Pakistanis went to the Gulf country for employment.

These workers, according to Senator Baig, annually send close to $4 billion remittances. He feared that if the issue was not taken up with the UAE authorities at the highest level Pakistan would lose the market to India.

A recruitment agent said that his company was supposed to send 3,000 Pakistani workers in the hospitality sector in view of the Chrisms by December this year. However, after the UAE imposed a ban on employment visas, his client now turned to India for fulfilling 3,000 jobs.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Syed Zulfi Bukhari confirmed that work visas for Pakistan had been suspended by the UAE for last 3 days. He, however, was not aware if the ban was still in place.

Senator Baig urged Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to take up the issue with the UAE authorities. Although, there is no official confirmation, some observers link the ban with Pakistan’s apparent hiccup in ties with the Arab countries.