UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said the decision to suspend the issuance of visas to Pakistani citizens was taken due to the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions are “temporary”, it emerged on Sunday.

The United Arab Emirates had last month temporarily stopped issuing new visas to citizens of Pakistan and at least 11 other mostly Muslim majority countries

In a statement on Saturday, Foreign Minister Nahyan “affirmed the depth of the bilateral relations between the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and recalled the keenness of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on the relations during the early stages of the establishment”.

He stressed “the temporary nature of the recent restrictions imposed on the issuance of visas due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic”, according to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation.

The statement was issued after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi paid a two-day official visit to the UAE during which he held meetings with the top Emirati leadership.

Qureshi had met Nahyan on Thursday. He had apprised his counterpart of the difficulties being faced by the Pakistani community in the UAE, but no discussion about the visa issue was made public at the time.

During Qureshi’s visit, the two sides exchanged views on the latest developments in the region and discussed ways to coordinate responses on issues of interest, the UAE foreign ministry said.

Nahyan “affirmed the depth of the distinguished relations between the two friendly countries and the keenness to enhance and develop further aspects of joint cooperation across all fields”.

He reiterated the UAE’s appreciation of the Pakistani community in the Gulf country, saying more than 1.5 million members of the Pakistani diaspora enjoyed safety and stability in “their second country the UAE”. He also praised their “great role and active contribution” to the growth and prosperity of the UAE.

Recalling that Pakistan was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE, Nahyan said the two friendly peoples and countries shared strong historical ties that “enhance prospects of their broad cooperation across all fields”, according to the ministry’s handout.

After the UAE visa suspension in November, the Pakistan Foreign Office had said the decision was “believed to be related to the second wave of Covid-19” but added that it had reached out to UAE to seek further clarity. The FO had, however, made clear that the suspension did not apply to those already holding valid visas.

Days later a report revealed the UAE had temporarily suspended the visas over security concerns. A source privy to the matter did not say what those concerns were but said the visa ban was expected to last for a short period.

Following that report, the FO denied there were security concerns that led to such a measure but this time said changes in UAE’s visa policy had not been confirmed