A visit visa can no longer be converted into a work or dependant visa without a sponsor.
However, visit visas with a sponsor can be transferred to a work or dependent visa for a revised fee of BD250, instead of the previous BD60, only if it is for the same sponsor.
This was announced by Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs (NPRA) Under-Secretary Shaikh Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa yesterday following directives by Interior Minister General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa who issued edict 16/2024 which was published in the latest edition of the Official Gazette.
Shaikh Hisham has been tasked with implementing the new regulation immediately.
“These measures, which will be carried out in co-operation with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA), are based on government directives to tighten visa transfer rules,” said Shaikh Hisham.
“It also comes within the framework of efforts to provide job opportunities for citizens, reduce the unemployment rate and support Bahrainis as the first choice in employment in support of the National Labour Market Strategy,” he added.
“The directives aim at tackling the exploitation of visit visas by some.”
However, a parliamentary bloc expressed doubts if the move would drastically eradicate the problem.
“At the moment we don’t know if this new fee will just legalise the ongoing misuse of the residency system or resolve the problem to a certain degree,” Strategic Thinking Bloc spokesman Khalid Bu Onk told the GDN.
Mr Khalid Bu Onk
“We fear that this new fee would be the door that expatriates wanting to work in Bahrain would open in partnership with local exploiters,” he added.
“The transfer ban should extend to all expats visiting the country on tourist or dependency visas.
“If they want they can return to where they have come from and then apply to obtain work permits after completing all the necessary procedures.”
MPs last month voted unanimously on a proposed addition to the 1965 Foreigners (Migration and Residency) Law to prohibit expats from turning visit visas into work permits.
The MPs believe the addition would end the ‘misuse’ of tourist visas by foreigners who enter the country and then seek employment.
The Tourism Ministry told MPs that the move would harm the tourism sector since it is based on assumption that the visitors will misuse the tourist visas, reflecting a degree of mistrust in them.
“Misuse of visas can be tackled through administrative rules and not law, leaving approvals or rejections to officials concerned to determine according to their own assessment of each and every situation,” the ministry said.
The Interior Ministry said last month that tough measures have already been introduced with local hosts signing declarations that no efforts would be made to turn the tourist visas into work permits.
“Work permit requests are assessed on a case-by-case basis and the proposed rule will hinder immigration officials as it seeks to impose a blanket ban,” the ministry added.
“It also contradicts articles within the 1965 Foreigners Law that gives Bahrainis the right to hire expats to fill vacancies within their establishments in line with employment legislations.”
The National Institution for Human Rights, however, said that the legislation did not contradict any international conventions or treaties and was purely organisational.
“The tourist visa is a clear loophole that is being misused to get expats into the country and prioritise them for vacancies over Bahrainis, and legislators have every right to intervene out of concern for citizens’ welfare,” it said.
The GDN reported in October last year that 85,246 expats were allowed to change their visas into work permits, from 2019 to June 2023.
A total of 13,078 expats changed visas in 2019, 7,942 in 2020, 9,424 in 2021, 46,204 in 2022 and 8,598 until June last year.
At the time, Shaikh Hisham said tougher restrictions were being introduced to deter people from violating entry regulations.
He added airlines had been instructed not to board anyone heading to Bahrain without a return ticket, residence permit or enough money.
Shaikh Hisham explained that the new rules and regulations had led to a 37 per cent drop in such arrivals last year.
He pointed out that out of 1.2 million entry visas granted in 2022, less than one per cent were found to be in violation.
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