The Saudi government caused quite a stir in August, when it announced that it will be introducing a new visa regime for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims visiting the Kingdom for the holy purpose, a second time. What was only clear in this announcement was that the fee for the first timers will be born by the Saudi government. There was no mention of, if for example, this would apply on second time ever visitors or repeat visitors in one Hijri year. This was further complicated by no following official announcement from the Saudi Arabian government to clear the ensuing confusion.
This was further complexed by copies of letters issued by the Saudi embassies in a couple of countries that mentioned one year as the standard. Rumors and false news were rampant.
The final shape of things will be as follows:
New Hajj Visa Fees:
- First time visitors in a lifetime. No Charges
- Second time visitors in a lifetime SR2000 (to be paid by pilgrim)
New Umrah Visa Fees:
- First time visitors in one Hijri Year : No Charges
- Second time visitors in last three Hijri Year: SR2000 (To be paid by Mu’tamir)
While this seems to be aimed at increasing the non-oil revenue, under the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 to diversify the Kingdom’s income streams, it is also evident that this will serve the purpose of reducing congestion as well. So, most probably, visa quotas and resultant delays in Rajab, Shaban and specially Ramadan, when it is almost as busy as Hajj will also be eased.
The pilgrims are hopeful that it will give the new pilgrims a chance to perform Umrah without casting doubts on visa approvals and will reduce the congestion in the holy pilgrim cities. At the same time, the travel market is responding cautiously and the real effectiveness of the new fee structure will be clear after running for the Umrah season this year. This is especially true when the Kingdom is also hoping to increase the number of pilgrims from 8 million to 30 million by 2030. The government is also considering, according to some sources to increase the length of the Umrah season from 8 months to 10.