Saudi Launches E-Service For Umrah Pilgrims To Get Visas In 24 Hours

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 17, 2021, during the annual hajj pilgrimage. Fayez Nureldine/ AFP

 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched an electronic service for Umrah pilgrims to get their visas issued within 24 hours.

Muslims from countries outside Saudi Arabia planning to attend Umrah can now individually apply for the visa through a designated web service.

Umrah is the non-mandatory lesser pilgrimage made by Muslims to Mecca, which may be performed at any time of the year.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Saudi’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, said the validity of Umrah visa has also been extended from one month to three months.

He said pilgrims who visit the kingdom to perform Umrah can also visit other Saudi cities without any restraints.

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia To Allow One Million Hajj Pilgrims This Year

“Until recently, the usual way to apply for Umrah visas is through tourism agents to perform the rituals of Umrah,” he said.

“But the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched a new e-service that enables pilgrims to apply for the Umrah visas online which facilitates pilgrims to perform Umrah. The individuals can directly now obtain Umrah visas online as well as choose online the transportation, housing and many others that are suitable for them while arriving in Makkah.

“The Umrah visa will be issued in less than 24 hours online. The ministry has also extended the validity of the Umrah visa from one month to be valid for three months without restrictions. Umrah visa holders are also allowed to move around the Kingdom’s regions.

“The ministry will contribute to developing the Umrah experience for pilgrims. There are several companies who are now offering the service of issuing the Umrah visa online.”

 

According to the minister, one million people are expected to perform hajj in 2022, including 85 per cent of foreign pilgrims.

Visa, Mastercard Suspend Operations In Russia

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 30, 2012, Visa and MasterCard credit card logos are seen in a store window in Washington, DC. – Card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced on March 5, 2022, they will suspend operations in Russia, the latest major US firms to join the business freeze-out of Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)

 

Card payment giants Visa and Mastercard announced Saturday they will suspend operations in Russia, the latest major US firms to join the business freeze-out of Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Noting the unprecedented nature of the current conflict and the uncertain economic environment,” Mastercard said it had “decided to suspend our network services in Russia.”

Visa, for its part, said that “effective immediately” it would “work with its clients and partners within Russia to cease all Visa transactions over the coming days.”

US President Joe Biden “welcomed the decision” during a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in which the two discussed US, ally and private industry actions to deter Russia from aggression, according to a White House readout.

Major corporations across a range of industries have halted business in Russia since its invasion began on February 24, including everything from US-based tech firms such as Intel and Airbnb to French luxury giants LVMH, Hermes and Chanel.

Visa and Mastercard had already announced that they were complying with US and international sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its attack.

READ ALSO: ‘TechWorks’ Brings Dreams Of Jordan Inventors To Life

“Our colleagues, our customers and our partners have been affected in ways that most of us could not imagine,” Mastercard said, stating that its cards issued by Russian banks would no longer be supported by the company’s network.

Visa similarly said that cards issued in Russia would no longer work outside the country.

Both companies said cards issued abroad would no longer work in Russia.

– Russian banks downplay effects –

“We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed,” Visa CEO Al Kelly said.

Russia’s major banks, including its largest lender Sberbank and the Russia Central Bank, downplayed the effects that the cards’ suspensions would have on their clients.

“All Visa and Mastercard bank cards issued by Russian banks will continue to operate normally on Russian territory until their expiration date,” the Russia Central Bank said.

Sberbank said in a statement on its official Telegram account that the cards “can be used for operations in the Russian territory — to withdraw cash, make transfers using the card number, and for payment at offline as well as at online Russian stores.”

The cards would continue to work on Russian territory, it said, because all payments in Russia are made through a national system and do not depend on foreign systems.

However, the central bank warned that Russians traveling abroad should carry alternate means of payment.

Mastercard added that it would continue to provide pay and benefits to its nearly 200 employees in Russia.

Visa’s and Mastercard’s announcements came hours after PayPal also halted its services in Russia.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted a letter early Saturday from PayPal CEO Dan Schulman officially announcing the stop.

“Under the current circumstances, we are suspending PayPal services in Russia,” Schulman said in the letter.

He added that PayPal would continue to support its staff in the region and would focus on “enabling our customers and our global employee community to support” humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

AFP

Visitor Visa Applicants To Experience Longer Processing Time – UK

File photo.

 

The processing time of standard visas for applicants seeking to visit the United Kingdom will now take about six weeks, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has said.

In a statement on Tuesday by the British High Commission in Abuja, the UKVI explained that the setback was a result of the global travel restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and global travel restrictions, UKVI are experiencing unpredictable demand across all visa routes,” it said.

“Standard visitor visa applications are taking on the average six weeks to process. UK Visas and Immigration are working to reduce the current processing time as quick as possible. You should bear this in mind when making travel arrangements.”

READ ALSO: Aviation Workers Shelve Planned Strike, Sign Agreement With FG

The UKVI advised applicants against unnecessary visits to the Visa Application Centres (VACs) unless they were invited.

It stated that applicants whose passports were ready for collection would be contacted by officials at the centre for pick up.

The UKVI, however, said there would be a consideration for extremely compassionate or compelling circumstances such as medical emergencies, although that would come at an extra cost.

“You will be contacted by the Visa Application Centre (VAC) when your passport is ready for collection. Please do not attend the VAC until you have been invited to do so,” it said.

“Where there are extremely compassionate or compelling circumstances (for example, a medical emergency), we may consider expediting specific cases. However, the bar for this is high and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“If your request is exceptionally urgent you can contact UK Visas and Immigration for help. Please note that this is a chargeable service for overseas customers. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.”

Djokovic Wins Australia Visa Case, Judge Orders His Release

Police stand guard outside a government detention centre where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is staying in Melbourne on January 10, 2022, while Djokovic challenged the cancellation of his visa over Covid rules in court. William WEST / AFP

 

World number one Novak Djokovic won a stunning victory Monday over the Australian government, overturning the cancellation of the tennis star’s visa on Covid-19 health grounds, and ending his detention.

It was an extraordinary setback for the Australian government, which has imposed strict pandemic requirements on arriving foreign travellers for the past two years.

But the Australian government’s lawyer told the court that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke may still decide to use his “personal power of cancellation” despite the player’s victory.

The 34-year-old Djokovic arrived in Melbourne last week ahead of the Australian Open, which starts in just one week, hoping to win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title.

READ ALSO: Mourinho Bemoans ‘Too Weak, Too Nice’ Players After Juve Collapse

But instead of a champion’s welcome, officers at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport decided the unvaccinated star had failed to present a solid medical reason for not being jabbed.

Djokovic’s visa was revoked and he was moved to a notorious immigration detention facility pending deportation.

In an emergency online court hearing Monday, the judge said the government side had agreed to drop its visa decision and he ordered Djokovic’s immediate release.

“Such release must occur no later than 30 minutes after the making of this order,” he said.

Djokovic has been in detention at the former Park Hotel, a five-storey facility that holds about 32 migrants trapped in Australia’s hardline immigration system — some for years on end.

An early plea by Djokovic to be moved to a facility where he can train for the Australian Open had fallen on deaf ears, his lawyers said.

 ‘Not human conditions’

The court’s finding, read out in an online hearing, recalled that Djokovic was interviewed overnight at Melbourne airport after his arrival late on Wednesday night.

In the early hours of the next morning, the player was told he had until 8:30 am to reply to the proposed cancellation of his visa. But instead, the border agent cancelled it at 7:42 am.

If Djokovic had been given until 8:30 am as first promised, “he could have consulted others and made submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be cancelled,” the judge said.

Though the hearing was held online, a small group of Djokovic fans gathered outside the federal court building, waving a Serbian flag, holding up a photo of their hero and dancing to the tune of an accordion.

Earlier, at a rally in Belgrade, Djokovic’s mother Dijana claimed her son was staying “in not human conditions” during his four-night stay at the detention centre.

“They detained him and even don’t give him breakfast, he has only lunch and dinner,” she said, quoted by local media.

“He does not have a normal window, he stares at a wall.”

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said this weekend that after “constructive talks” with her Australian counterpart “we managed that he gets gluten-free food, exercise equipment, a laptop.”

Though it had no bearing on his court case, Djokovic’s claim of a positive test on December 16 stirred controversy after it emerged he had attended a gathering that day for the Serbian national postal service launching a stamp series in his honour.

Pictures shared by the Belgrade tennis federation also showed him at a young players’ event in the city on December 17.

It reported that he had handed over cups and prizes to players. No one was wearing a mask.

Another tennis player — Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova — has also had her visa cancelled after obtaining a medical exemption.

She flew out of Australia on Saturday after being held in the same Melbourne centre as Djokovic.

AFP

“Drop Box” Visa Processing Is Not Available in Nigeria – U.S. Mission

 

There is no “Drop Box” Visa processing in Nigeria, says the United States Mission.

According to a short communique on Friday, the U.S Mission stated that despite recent media reports, the nonimmigrant visa interview waiver process, popularly known as the “drop box,” has been discontinued in Nigeria since 2018.

The Mission says the State Department continually evaluates each country’s eligibility based on numerous factors including overstay rates and visa-related fraud.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Ranks 16th In FBI’s List Of Countries Worst Affected By Internet Crimes

The U.S. Mission Nigeria reaffirmed that it is committed to promoting legitimate travel to the United States.

In light of this, all applicants who wish to apply for a visa must kindly appear for an interview.

Those who wish to learn more about the nonimmigrant visa application process can visit  https://www.ustraveldocs.com/ng/ng-gen-faq.asp.

US Considers Policy To Limit Stay Of Nigerian Students, Others

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
File photo: US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

The United States Government has proposed a policy to limit the duration of foreign students, including Nigerians that apply for the visa.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced the proposal to add changes to visas for students, exchange visitors and foreign media.

“This effort would create a fixed time period of admission for certain aliens, consistent with most other temporary visa classifications, while still allowing these aliens an opportunity to legally extend their stay or re-apply for admission where appropriate,” the statement partly read.

“Amending the relevant regulations is critical in improving program oversight mechanisms; preventing foreign adversaries from exploiting the country’s education environment; and properly enforcing and strengthening U.S. immigration laws.”

If the new rule is approved, it could translate to affected students not getting four-year visas for four-year courses in the U.S.

International students could apply to extend their visas beyond the limits, but the rule would severely tighten the requirements for an extension, the D.H.S said.

According to the D.H.S, the rule would help prevent visa fraud, protect national security and discourage students from overstaying.

The countries targeted in the new policy are those on the U.S. “state sponsor of terrorism list” and ”students from 43 countries that visitors have overstay rate of more than 10 per cent”.

Countries that will be affected by this new DHS proposed law include those listed as state sponsors of terrorism, and countries whose citizens have overstayed their visas.

Nigeria is not on the list of state sponsors of terrorism but is part of countries with high visa overstay rates.

UK High Commission In Nigeria To Replace Expired 30-Day Visas For Free

uk-high-commission-nigeria
A screengrab of the UK High Commission in Nigeria. Map data: Google.

 

 

The United Kingdom (UK) High Commission in Nigeria has said it will replace expired 30-day visas for free as it reopens its Visa Application Centres (VAC). 

According to a statement issued by the High Commission on its official Twitter handle on Thursday, the replacement of the expired visas for free is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If an individual’s 30-day visa to travel to the UK for work, study it to join family has expired, or is about to expire, they can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year,” the statement explained.

“This does not apply to other types of visas. The process will be in place until the end of 2020. The replacement visa will be valid for 90 days.”

It said due to the travel disruptions caused by the pandemic, the High Commission is experiencing a high demand for the replacement of vignettes for 30-day visas to travel to the UK.

“To request a replacement visa, individuals can arrange to return their passport, to their Visa Application Centre in Nigeria without an appointment,” the High Commission added.

It, therefore, called on customers to be patient as it works on the issues causing delays in its normal operations.

Read the full statement below: 

Image

Trump Imposes New Travel Ban On Nigeria, Five Other Countries

 

President Donald Trump has imposed a new travel ban restricting immigration from Nigeria, and five other countries in an expansion of his administration’s policy blocking travel from certain nations.

In line with the new policy, citizens from Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar, and Kyrgyzstan won’t be allowed to apply for visas to immigrate to the U.S.

According to the US government, the policy was designed to tighten security for countries that don’t comply with the U.S. minimum security standards or cooperate to prevent illegal immigration.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: WHO Lists Nigeria, 12 Other Nations As Top Risk African Countries

The Wall Street Journal reports that in line with the policy, two other countries, Sudan and Tanzania, will be barred from participating in the diversity visa lottery, which randomly awards green cards to 50,000 immigrants from underrepresented countries annually.

According to US officials, the new restrictions are set to take effect on Feb 21 and will apply only to new visa applications. Immigrants who were issued valid visas before that date will still be able to move to the U.S.

Nigeria and the five other countries listed will join a list of seven nations that faced significant travel restrictions under President Trump’s original travel ban which was issued earlier in 2017.

US To Stop Issuing Visas For ‘Birth Tourism’

 

 

The United States on Thursday said it would no longer issue temporary visitor visas to pregnant women seeking to enter the country for so-called “birth tourism.”

In announcing the rule change, which takes effect Friday, the White House said foreigners were using the visas “to secure automatic and permanent American citizenship for their children by giving birth on American soil.”

“The integrity of American citizenship must be protected,” it said in a statement.

Calling the practice “a glaring immigration loophole,” the White House argued the crackdown on “birth tourism” was for public safety and national security as well as immigration control.

“The birth tourism industry threatens to overburden valuable hospital resources and is rife with criminal activity, as reflected in federal prosecution.”

The US constitution guarantees automatic American citizenship to anyone born on US soil.

US President Donald Trump has made restricting immigration a top priority of his administration and has threatened in the past to abolish birthright citizenship.

AFP

UN Informed Me Of US Visa Denial, Says Iran Foreign Minister

ran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a conference in Tehran on October 21, 2019. ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday he has been informed by UN chief Antonio Guterres that Washington has denied him a visa for a trip to UN headquarters in New York.

“What we know is that the US State Secretary (Mike Pompeo), in a call to the Secretary General of the United Nations, said: ‘We did not have time to issue a visa for Mohammad Javad Zarif and we will not issue a visa’,” Zarif said.

“The Secretary General responded by saying that it is Iran’s right to take part in this session,” Tehran’s top diplomat said, quoted by semi-official news agency ISNA.

So far there has been no official confirmation from Washington that it has rejected Zarif’s visa application.

Zarif was speaking to reporters in Tehran at a gathering to promote an Iranian peace plan for the Gulf.

His remarks came as Iran held funeral processions on Tuesday for one of its top military commanders killed in a US drone strike in Iraq.

Zarif later took to Twitter, saying the rejection violated the terms of a 1947 agreement on the travel of representatives of UN members to and from the headquarters.

But he said “denying me a visa… pales in comparison to” US sanctions and threats, as well as the “cowardly assassination” of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week.

“What are they really afraid of? Truth?” he tweeted.

Soleimani’s killing in the US strike Friday in Baghdad has sparked a war of words between the arch-foes, with Iran vowing “severe revenge” and US President Donald Trump threatening to hit back hard for any retaliation.

Trump warned on Saturday that Washington had lined up 52 targets if Tehran attacked US personnel or assets.

Zarif said the US visa decision was “a sign of the bankruptcy of the US government and Trump’s regime”, according to ISNA.

The Iranian foreign minister said he had been planning to go to UN headquarters on Thursday for an open debate on “Upholding the Charter of the United Nations”.

But he added that he had also intended to “raise America’s crimes” during his visit to New York.

It is not the first time that Iranian officials have encountered problems when travelling to New York for events at UN headquarters.

In December, the UN General Assembly called on the United States to lift restrictions on Iranian diplomats.

Since mid-2019, Iranian diplomats and ministers have been under strict movement restrictions when they are in the United States.

They are limited largely to the area around UN headquarters, the Iranian diplomatic mission and the ambassador’s residence.

In September, while taking part in the annual General Assembly, Zarif complained he was unable to visit the country’s UN ambassador in a US hospital.

AFP

Nigeria, Vietnam Sign Visa Waiver Deal For Diplomatic, Official Passport Holders

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Vuong Dinh Hue, watch as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, and Vietnamese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nguyen Minh Vu, sign some documents at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on October 30, 2019. Photo: Twitter- @ProfOsinbajo

 

 

Nigeria and Vietnam have signed agreement on waiver of visa requirements for holders of valid diplomatic and official passports in both countries.

The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and the Deputy Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Mr Vuong Dinh Hue, witnessed the signing and exchange of Memorandum of Understanding during a meeting on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, signed on behalf of Nigeria while his counterpart, the Vietnamese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nguyen Minh Vu, signed on behalf of his government.

Both countries also agreed on the establishment of a joint commission on trade and strengthening bilateral ties, as well as to increase cooperation in the areas of agriculture, tourism, defence and security, among others.

They also agreed to explore other areas that would further strengthen existing platforms in order to boost economic ties between the two countries.

READ ALSO: First Lagos Governor, Mobolaji Johnson, Dies At 83

Professor Osinbajo, who received the Vietnamese delegation, noted that Nigeria and Vietnam established diplomatic relations in 1976.

He added that the impressive development strides recorded by Vietnam over the years have been a source of encouragement to Nigeria.

“We’ve been very keen watchers of your development, especially in the areas of agriculture, trade, services, industry, and I must say the impressive growth of Vietnam has always been a source of encouragement here for us in Nigeria,” the Vice President was quoted as saying in a statement by his spokesperson, Mr Laolu Akande.

He added, “We have also been active in several areas, especially in agriculture, oil and gas, innovation and technology.

“I think there is a lot of room for cooperation and collaboration, especially with respect to economy, commerce, but also in the areas of defence and security.

“Also, in areas of energy and mining, we believe there is a lot we can learn from each other and share. We have a very lucrative mining sector and considerable solid minerals and other mineral sources that we think might be of interest to Vietnam.”

 

Professor Osinbajo, therefore, called on Vietnam to be more open to Nigerian exports and businesses, stressing that the country’s business climate has improved over the years.

According to him, the government has worked very hard on improving the business environment in Nigeria to make it friendlier for business and tourism.

He recalled that the World Bank named Nigeria one of the top 10 most improved economies in 2020 Doing Business Index.

“I’m sure that with the signing of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement, and some of what we are doing, especially in financial services, we are also looking at expanding our scope, especially in Africa. We will be looking at cooperation with the ASEAN countries as well.

“We are grateful for the offer from His Excellency (Deputy PM) about the possible links Vietnam could help us establish with the ASEAN countries. We are also ready to collaborate in whatever way we can to facilitate the relationships between Vietnam, ECOWAS and the African Union (AU),” the Vice President told his visitors.

He gave assurance that the Nigerian government would look into the issues raised by Vietnam in terms of its rice imports into the country and other issues and ‘respond appropriately.’

Earlier in his remarks, the Deputy PM who is visiting Nigeria for the first time noted that that country is one of Vietnam’s largest trading partners and would welcome more investment and economic collaboration between both countries.

“Vietnam appreciates the tremendous successes that the government and the people of Nigeria have recorded in recent times in the construction and development process of the country, which has put Nigeria in a leading position in the West African region, and on the continent.

“I believe we should work faster and together to compensate for the long time passed that our two countries missed. A multifaceted cooperation shall be intensified with time,” Hue said.

A friendly football match between Nigeria and Vietnam to strengthen bilateral ties was also proposed by the Vietnamese Deputy PM, which the Vice President warmly welcomed.

Nigeria, South Africa To Issue 10-Year Visa To Businessmen, Academics

 

Following successful conclusion of the 9th Bi-National Commission of South Africa and Nigeria meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, which was elevated to the level of heads of state, both countries have agreed on issuing 10-year visas to businessmen, academics and frequent travelers.

The agreement was reached in a meeting co-chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, which was the first time both presidents will preside since the Bi-National Commission was elevated.

The decision was taken to encourage more people-to-people contacts among citizens of both countries and further strengthen socio-cultural, economic and political relations.

READ ALSO: Don’t Forget Your Country, Buhari Tells Nigerians In South Africa

At the meeting held at the Union Buildings, Presidential Palace of South Africa, the two presidents agreed on early warning signals to nip violence in the bud before it escalates, while taking into consideration the need to share more intelligence and promote stronger partnership in security.

Both countries also agreed to re-establish the consular forum, which is a structured arrangement where both governments meet regularly, at least twice in a year, to discuss welfare of citizens.

Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, signed the minutes of the 9th session of Bi-National Commission.