Expats in Oman hopeful of rollback of air travel curbs

Restrictions do not apply to Omani nationals, diplomats, and their medical and domestic staff

  
Passengers in an airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Passengers in an airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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The recent announcement that the Supreme Committee was studying air travel curbs has brightened speculations that the Sultanate may lift the entry ban of expats in the coming days.

Adding to the hope of hundreds of stranded employees in different South Asian countries is the latest decision excluding academics and their families from institutional quarantine.

The Committee that is monitoring the situation arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, last week said, “it was studying suitable measures including procedures related to entry to public places and means of availing services of the public and private sectors, as well as travel measures governing entry to the Sultanate.”

The Committee later excluded institutional quarantine for “academics in government, private and international educational institutions and their families coming to the Sultanate, provided they adhere to home quarantine guidelines and wear the electronic bracelet.”

According to observers in the travel industry, all these measures point to the fact that the Sultanate will open its skies for the return of expatriates who are stranded in different countries following travel restrictions imposed in April last.

“Indications are that travelers will likely be able to book flight tickets to Oman in the coming weeks. Bookings are likely to reopen in the coming days”, said a travel agent.

Yet, he warned the potential travelers not to fall prey to “rumour-mongers” and rely on official channels for clarity.

However, a senior officer of an airline said the chances are low for lifting the air travel restrictions, so soon. “Although, Covid cases have been decreasing, there is still ambiguity. The authorities will look at all the pros and cons”, he said.

Like other countries in the Gulf, Oman has extended a travel ban on passengers including those in the Asian countries and announced a suspension of flights. The ban also applies to passengers who traveled to India 14 days prior to arriving in Oman.

The restrictions do not apply to Omani nationals, diplomats, and their medical and domestic staff.

However, the Qatari government, a few weeks back, ed its borders to fully vaccinated travellers and resumed issuing family and visitor visas. Foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated with a Qatari-approved vaccine may enter Qatar and undergo institutional quarantine for 14 days.

At the same time, many of the stranded expats have taken circuitous routes using third countries like Qatar, Armenia, Maldives, Serbia and Uzbekistan to quarantine there and return to their jobs in Oman.

But, one of the biggest issues facing expatriates is the expiry of residency visas and work permits. During the first wave of the pandemic, the Sultanate extended the validity of all visas, including visit, residency and entry permits.

“So far there has not been any announcements in this regard. If the travel ban continues, we will be left in the lurch having our visas expired, halting our entry,” said Alex Mathew, an Indian engineer.

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