UAE halts visas to citizens of 13 mostly Muslim states after Israel visa exemption deal

The United Arab Emirates has stopped issuing new visas to citizens of 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a document issued by a state-owned business park.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed to allow their citizens reciprocal visa-free travel as direct flights begin, the first such arrangement between Israel and an Arab state aimed at bolstering business and tourism ties.

A source briefed on the matter told Reuters the visas had temporarily stopped being issued to Afghans, Pakistanis and citizens of several other countries over security concerns, but did not provide details of those concerns.

The document, sent to companies operating in the park and seen by Reuters, cited an immigration circular that came into effect on Nov. 18.

The document said applications for new employment and visit visas had been suspended for nationals – those outside the UAE – of 13 countries that also included Somalia, Libya and Yemen until further notice.

The ban also applies to citizens of Algeria, Kenya, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey, it says.

It was not clear if there were any exceptions to the ban.

The UAE’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

The circular took effect a week after the French Embassy in the UAE urged its citizens to maintain vigilance after a bomb attack in Saudi Arabia on diplomats claimed by Islamic State.

The explosion, which occurred during a World War One commemoration ceremony in Jeddah, was the first attack in years where explosives were used in an attempt to hit foreigners in the conservative kingdom.

The visa ban also comes two months after the Gulf state established formal ties with Israel, a move that broke with decades of Arab policy and angered some Muslim states and communities. Others welcomed it.

Still, the source familiar with the matter said the ban was unrelated to the UAE’s relationship with Israel and was expected to last only for a brief period.

A diplomat commented that the UAE had strained relations with some of the states listed, such as Turkey.

Last week, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the UAE had stopped processing new visas for its citizens and those of some other countries, but that those already holding valid visas were not affected and could still enter the UAE.

Israel, UAE sign visa exemption deal

The United Arab Emirates is the first Arab country to lift visa requirements for Israeli nationals.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month signed four agreements, including a visa exemption deal during the first high-level visit from the Gulf state to Tel Aviv following a controversial bilateral normalization agreement.

A plane carrying US officials along with a UAE delegation landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport earlier on Tuesday.

At the airport, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed US officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and the UAE delegation led by the economy and finance ministers.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were present at a ceremony at the airport.

Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for their roles in signing the normalization deal.

Following the welcoming ceremony, four agreements on visa exemption, aviation, economic cooperation, and protection of investments were signed between the two countries.

With the pacts, the UAE became the first Arab nation to lift visa requirements for Israeli nationals.

On Sept. 15, Bahrain and the UAE agreed to establish full diplomatic, cultural and commercial relations with Israel after signing controversial agreements at the White House.

The deals have drawn widespread condemnation from Palestinians, who say the accords ignore their rights and do not serve the Palestinian cause.