A civil society organisation, Independent Hajj Reporters, IHR, has appealed to Saudi Arabia to reduce the tax imposed on visa for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims.
The government of Saudi Arabia recently increased Hajj, Umrah and entry visa fees.
The oil-rich kingdom introduced an elaborate economic diversification programme away from its dependence on oil, following the global fall in the price of the commodity.
According to the new visa regime released in August and which came into effect October 2, “a one-time entry visa fee will be SR2,000, but the state will bear this fee if a visitor is coming to the Kingdom for the first time to perform Hajj or Umrah”.
The government said a six-month multiple-entry visa will now cost 3,000 Saudi Riyals (SR), a one year multiple-entry visa will cost SR5000, while a two-year multiple-entry visa will cost SR8000.
IHR, in a statement on Monday signed by its national coordinator, Ibrahim Mohammed, said visa fee for Umrah was increased from 650 SR to 2000SR.
The civil society group said implication of the increase is that “the cost of going for Umrah will triple because each pilgrim will have to pay additional SR2, 000 in addition to the Umrah package which includes the cost of return ticket, accommodation, transport and royalty.”
The Saudi cabinet had while announcing the new visa regime, however, said the changes “will not impact any bilateral deals already signed by Saudi Arabia and other countries”.
It also said as for transit visas, the new fee is going to be SR300, while exit visa fee for anyone leaving the Kingdom through its seaports will be SR50.
“Meanwhile, “exit and re-entry” visa fees for residents will be SR200 for a single trip for two months. SR100 will be charged for each additional month till the validity of residence permit (iqama). Exit and re-entry visa fee for multiple trips will be SR500 for three months. SR200 will be charged for each additional month till the validity of residence permit,” the government said.
Independent Hajj Reporters said that an estimated 1.1 million Nigerian Muslims perform Umrah while 76, 000 people perform Hajj every year.
It said if the new fee is not withdrawn; at least 40 percent of potential pilgrims from Nigeria would be deprived of Hajj and Umrah.
It said that the imposition of the new fee would also have a negative impact on Saudi Arabian economy because with a decrease in the number of Umrah pilgrims, “hoteliers, airliners, vendors, car syndicates services, shopkeepers, caterers would also lose substantial income.
“While we appreciate the Kingdom’s effort in making hajj a memorable and comfortable exercise for Muslims, we would like them to consider the global economic challenges confronting the Muslim dominated countries,” the statement said.
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