Expats 'confused' by visa process
Manama, May 6, 2011
Several British and Irish nationals have been left angered and confused by the visa process when entering Bahrain, it has emerged.
The Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister newspaper, reported last week that UK citizens entering Bahrain without a residence permit would be offered only two-week visit visas, as opposed to the three-month visas previously available.
The news was backed up by the British Embassy in Bahrain, which confirmed it had been informed of the changes.
In an e-mail sent to members of the Bahrain Irish Society the following day, officials said the Irish Embassy in Riyadh had informed them that two-week visas would be issued to its citizens on arrival.
It said a maximum two-week extension could be granted on application.
Since then, however, the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence (GDNPR) has maintained there has been no change to the visa policy for either country.
A number of British nationals who entered the country over the last few days revealed they had been handed three-month visit visas without any questioning.
It appears, however, that those entering over a brief period towards the end of last month were not offered the same visa, said the newspaper.
One Briton said that his daughter and two grandchildren arrived for a holiday on April 25 and were told they could only receive visas valid for two weeks, but could apply for an extension through the GDNPR.
'My daughter and her two children came in for the Easter break and, even after some debate, were issued a visa for only 14 days instead of the usual three months,' said the Bahrain resident.
'Immigration desks at the airport were adamant they had been told two weeks visa maximum, so I paid a visit to the passport office and was told for sure the system had changed.
'We had to fill out a questionnaire for each passport, write a letter stating why we needed more than two weeks and then one of them took copies of the passports and told us we would get a response in three to four days,' the Briton said.
'I went back to the passport office a few days later only to be told that the decision on the extension had still not been finalised.
'We keep hearing that no changes have been made so we are at a loss to know what is going on.
'The children already have confirmed flights back so we need to know what is happening as at the moment we will over-extend the two weeks given.'
Another British national and a former resident said he returned to Bahrain on April 23 and was told he could only receive a two-week visa.
'I was asked how long I would be staying and replied that I wanted to stay approximately one month as I intend to fly out around May 17,' said the Briton.
'The gentleman at the counter replied that as a British citizen I was only allowed a maximum of two weeks.
'I questioned why I could not receive the usual three months and was told that it had changed and he gave me a two-week visa.
'I asked if I could extend this at the immigration office and he said I would be able to get a two-week extension at a cost of BD45.'
The man, whose wife lives and works in Bahrain, said he visited the GDNPR, along with another friend in a similar situation, and were told that the easiest way of getting round the problem would be to pay a small fine at the airport when we leave the country.
'I went to the passport office and explained I was looking for an extension,' he said.
'I presented the application form with a photo-copy of my passport and the letter declaring my reasons for wanting to stay.
'When the man at the desk saw that I only wanted to extend the visa by eight days, he said there maybe no need.
'He then checked with his supervisor and came back and said that the form could take anything from six to 10 days to be processed so the best thing I could do was just to pay BD5 at passport control on my way out,' the man said.
'I submitted the application anyway, but it was all pretty confusing,' he said.
An Irish citizen and another former long-term resident contacted the GDN last week to say that, despite requesting a three-month visa, they too had been granted only two-week visas upon their arrival on April 24.
However, when his brother arrived in Bahrain on Monday, he was given a three-month visa automatically.
The man said he visited the GDNPR and was simply told that the visa process for British and Irish passport holders had changed for a few days, but then reverted back to the three-month policy.
In an e-mail sent to the GDN earlier this week, a representative of the British Armed Forces said that its personnel had also been affected by the confusion.
'Until very recently, we have all been granted a three-month visa as standard upon entry into Bahrain,' the email outlined.
'Recently we have noticed a change in policy at the immigration desks where we are only being granted two-week visas, which as you can understand, creates a problem for us as we are here for four to six months.'
The GDNPR was not available for comment, but it had been maintaining that no changes were ever made to the visa policy relating to British and Irish citizens.