“The aim was to ensure visit visa holders get their visas on time,” he said.
Hours before UAE’s visa suspension rules kicked in, this Dubai- based Indian businessman said he chartered nine flights from Dubai to Muscat and back, allowing a total of 1,980 visit visa holders to change their visa status.
Afi Ahmed, the manager director of Smart Travel, an authorised visa change dealer of a UAE-based airline with 13 branches in the UAE told Khaleej Times said on March 14, over a thousand visit visa holders and feared they would either be stranded in the UAE without a valid visit visa or would have to return to their home countries.
“There were several hundred passengers in this situation. It was only later that it became clear visit visa holders could change their status within the country,” Ahmed told Khaleej Times.
“Time was of the essence here. About 60 per cent of the visa holders were our customers. Given the numbers were so large, I decided to charter the flights,” explained Ahmed. Several other passengers were customers of partner agencies and their visas were about to expire. A few passengers had expired visas and they had to pay fines.
Ahmed said he was able to charter nine flights with a capacity of 189 passengers to Muscat. The flights operated from 10pm on March 15 till 3pm on March 16. “The aim was to ensure visit visa holders got their visas on time,” he said.
Following which, Ahmed himself flew out to his hometown in Kannur, Kerala, where is presently under home quarantine. “I came here on Wednesday night before the quarantine protocols in the UAE were put into place, deciding to spend some time with my family,” said Ahmed.
He now plans to return after 14 days. “I will make a call based on announcements from the government. I hope things will improve,” he said.
Khaleej Times reached out to a few passengers who availed the service from Ahmed’s agency, including Biju Prasad who sent his 60-year-old mother-in-law on the chartered flight.
Prasad said, “I have a six-month-old daughter and my mother-in-law has been staying with my wife and I to take care of her. I don’t have the salary to sponsor my aged parents and in-laws. Her visa was to expire on March 19, and sending her to India in these circumstances were very risky.”
He added, “Luckily, things worked out for us. Their service was really good, and she flew out on the 15th and came back with the new visa.”
A second passenger Mohammed Razeen is here in the UAE on a job hunt. Razeen said, “I wanted to go on visa exchange to Muscat, and was worried I might have to go back because my visa was expiring on March 18. Luckily, everything worked out and was able to get a new visit visa thanks to Smart Travel. This is my third visa; and now I am hoping matters improve soon. I don’t want to go back home empty- handed.”
Click here to read more news from @khaleejtimes