ശനിയാഴ്‌ച, മാർച്ച് 18, 2006

The great visa run

ഇവിടെ യു.ഏ.ഈയില്‍ വിസ ചെയ്ഞ്ച് ചെയ്യാനായിട്ടുള്ള പുതിയ പരിപാടിയാണ് മുസന്ദത്തില്‍ പോക്ക്. അത് ഈയടുത്ത കാലത്താണ് ഇത് തുടങ്ങിയത്. കിഷിലും ഖിഷത്തിലും ഒക്കെ പോയിട്ട് വരുന്നതിലും നല്ലതാണീ പരിപാടിയെന്ന് തോന്നുന്നു. ഇതെ കുറിച്ച് ഇന്നത്തെ (18 മാര്‍ച്ച് 2006) ഗള്‍ഫ് ന്യൂസ് ഓണ്‍ലൈനില്‍ വന്നൊരു കൌതുകകരമായ റിപ്പോറ്ട്ടാണിത്. വിസിറ്റ് വിസകളെ കുറിച്ചുള്ള ഒരു അനുബന്ധ റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ടും ഇതോടൊപ്പമുണ്ട്

The great visa run
By Mahmood Saberi, Staff Reporter

It's just before 9am. Chanine Mikdam, manager of Riverside Travel and Tourism, guides us hurriedly through the streets of Ras Al Khaimah to the port as we are running late.

We do not know of the Emirates Road connection that takes you directly to Ras Al Khaimah from Dubai. Instead we go through Sharjah and get caught in the early morning traffic in Ajman. The Emirates Road trip takes only 90 minutes.

The immigration officer stamps our passports and we pay Dh20 each. Mikdam had apparently advised the officer we are making the visa change run for a story.

All aboard

We are soon aboard Julfar 1, a Chinese-made boat that can seat 38 passengers. Julfar was the name given to Ras Al Khaimah many years ago.

The stewardess is dressed in a blazing red uniform. She welcomes us and offers us cups of Ras Al Khaimah spring water. Shortly after we set off from Ras Al Khaimah Port, she brings us a tray containing a cheese sandwich, a cupcake and fruit juice. "It will take one hour and 45 minutes," she announces over the public address system, referring to the time it will take to reach Oman.

Later, Jen tells us the boat is made in China. "I too am made in China," she says with a twinkle. She then puts a DVD in the player and for the rest of the trip we watch Steven Segal beat up a lot of baddies on the large TV screen in the passenger deck.

Difficult

As we set out, the captain points to the dozens of floating wooden buoys. "The fishermen's nets," he explains. "It is difficult (to manoeuvre the boat)," he says.

Around 10.40am, the first mate runs up the Oman flag. The boat is sleek and skims the waters gracefully. The Gulf News photographer has got Jen to hold on to the flag mast and pose like the heroine from the movie Titanic. We are trolling along at 20 knots and the wind makes it impossible for her to put on her cap and pose.

On the horizon we see huge ships which could be those cargo vessels that sail from ocean to ocean, ferrying everything from Japanese cars to American corn oil.

The approach to the Omani port of Khasab is spectacular from the sea, as tall, majestic, cliffs seem to surround it from all sides. The seagulls flying near the face of the craggy cliffs are barely visible and appear to be miles away.

The people

On board were two Moroccan girls, one Indian, two Palestinians and two other Arabs. The Gulf News photographer and I complete the passenger list. "You should have come yesterday," says Mikdam, the Moroccan businessman, who runs the boat service on behalf of the Ras Al Khaimah port. "We had to run both our boats," he says. The other boat is named Julfar 2.

But on the day we told Mikdam we would go on the trip, it started drizzling in Dubai in the early morning and a quick check with the met office said the sea was choppy. So we postponed the trip by a day. The Perfect Storm was not one of my favourite movies.

Two choices

Raju Ankush Sadekar who travels with us on that calm and sunny Sunday morning, stays the night over at Khasab. "I had a wonderful time," he says later by phone.

Raju's employer had two choices when he hired him locally in Dubai: send the Indian expatriate out of the country on a plane, or pay Dh1,000 to change his visit visa status.

But when he found he had a third choice and a cheaper way to change Raju's visa, he put him on a boat to Oman from Ras Al Khaimah.

About 40 minutes ago, the captain of the boat had ordered the first mate to run up the Omani flag on the ship's mast. "We are now in Omani territorial waters," says Emmad, the captain, whose earlier job was to ferry tourists to the many tiny islands of Indonesia, his home country.

"Some days you can see dolphins. I can keep track of them on the sonar," he says, pointing to the various sophisticated equipment on board.

Teeming

As he expertly steers the boat to the quay, a strong smell of gasoline wafts from the harbour. The harbour is teeming with small dinghies, which are operated by boys from Afghanistan as boisterously as the boys on the Dubai Creek riding water skis.

Many of the Afghan boys have just come back with sheep and goats after a short run to Iran and are refuelling their dinghies with petrol from jerry cans. "Iran is just there," says an Omani boy who came on board with the customs officials, pointing to the calm, blue waters beyond the towering cliffs.

Ebrahim, a truck driver from Kerala, India, watching the unloading from shore, says some of the produce the boys ferry across the waters like dried fruit and vegetables, is shipped to Dubai by road.

Customs

About 11.20am. An Omani customs official boards the craft and the captain hands him all our passports that were earlier taken from us. He says the passengers are not charged any fees. "The Dh60 is for the entry visa if you wish to stay the night at a hotel nearby," he says.

Except for Raju, the other passengers just wait around the harbour and take the return trip back after an hour.

The harbour is a beehive of activity that day. Nearby stand portakabins, with the Oman flag flying in front. A snack truck also stands nearby, with the driver selling hot tea and potato chips.

Huge potential

Mikdad sees huge potential for these visa runs. His visa run trips that started in February are already attracting customers from as far away as Al Ain.

12.30pm. Just before we sail back, Hilary, an Indian, boards the boat. He is followed by a young woman wearing an abaya. Hilary has come to Khasab to extend his visit visa.

"My wife had faxed me the visa at the hotel," he says. He cannot remember the name of the hotel he stayed in.

The sea is choppy on the return trip and it takes more than two hours to return to Ras Al Khaimah. But time flies as we watch another action-packed movie. Some of the passengers doze off.

Back home

A little after 3pm we reach Ras Al Khaimah port. Mikdam's future plans include buying bigger boats and making the visa runs to the tiny Iranian islands of Kish and Qeshm and to Bandar Abbas.

He is looking at ferries that can seat 250 passengers. Ras Al Khaimah port, which is located on the busy eastern part of the Gulf Coast, is already planning ahead and wants to build a five-star motel for boat passengers.

A Chinese entrepreneur tells Gulf News at the port that thousands of Chinese workers would take advantage of the boat runs.

But it takes quite a-while at the immigration desk. When the officer finally stamps my passport, he apologises for the delay. "The system is new," he said.

The cost

For the boat trip Raju's employer paid

For ticket: Dh350
RAK exit visa: Dh20
Oman visa: Dh60
Hotel room: Dh40
Total: Dh470

അടുത്ത അനുബന്ധ റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ട് :

Visit visa as an industry
By Mahmodd Saberi, Staff Reporter


As the UAE economy flourishes, it continues to attract thousands of people every month from various parts of the globe who are looking for a foothold in the burgeoning job market.

One way to enter the emirates and assess the market is through a visit visa.

The visa is valid for 60 days but it can be extended for another 30 days, giving you three months' time. If after this period you still need to extend it, the only way is to go out of the country on the visa change flights.

Many of the thousands of passengers boarding flights out of the country every day from the various airports in the UAE, have only one purpose: land at a nearby airport and wait for a fax that shows that you now have a new visit visa. Those offered jobs also have to fly out of the country and change the visit visa to an employment visa.

Special flights

It is a whole new industry by itself, requiring special flights out of the country to destinations such as Muscat, Bahrain, and the nearby Iranian islands.

Air Arabia, for instance, has a separate office in Sharjah just for visa runs. A visa coordinator says there are two daily flights from Sharjah to Kish and 10 flights from Dubai. The airline also runs three flights weekly to Muscat.

Oman Air also has a separate representative just to look after visa run passengers. It has two flights from Dubai to Muscat every day. The ticket costs Dh590 including taxes. The passenger gets down at Muscat, waits in the transit lounge and takes the next flight back.

With one airline, passengers do not even have to get down. They just wait in the plane and take the return flight back to Dubai.

Tourism

A Kish Airline representative said it is promoting the Iranian island as a tourist destination. It has purchased McDonnell Douglas aircraft for the popular visa runs. He said many African businessmen use these flights to extend their visas.

But such runs are laden with uncertainties. When Gulf News earlier visited Kish there were hundreds of expatriates waiting for their sponsors to send them faxes of their visas. Some had been waiting for months and were doing part-time jobs to sustain themselves.

The crash

When a Kish Airline plane crashed while returning to Sharjah in February 2004, the UAE changed its visa rules and allowed visitors to change their visas in the country itself, but at a cost.

According to a PRO of a company, you first pay Dh500 for the change in status; from a visit visa to an employment visa. Then another Dh500 for the residency visa.

Other way

The other way to enter the country is to get a hotel to sponsor your visit. But the transit visa will cost you Dh400 and is valid only for 15 days.

Mikdam believed visa change boat runs such as his will save huge sums of money for employers. "Imagine if you have hundreds of workers who need new visas," he said. His plans in the future include making runs to Khasab for tourists from the UAE.

കടപ്പാ‍ട് : ഗള്‍ഫ് ന്യൂസ് ഓണ്‍ലൈന്‍
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