LAHORE - The Saudi government has asked the Umrah pilgrims not to stay more than 15 days due to expansion of Harram, and approval of new Umrah visas has been put on hold till further orders, said a travel agent while talking to The Nation Tuesday.  He said that hundreds of Pakistani pilgrims, who had got their visas and tickets issued for more than 15 days in advance, would suffer due to the new policy.

It is worth mention here that as per Saudi polices, Umrah pilgrims were allowed to stay in the holy cities of Makkah and Madina for 15 to 30 days. The Saudi government takes the step of reducing the stay period every year during the month of Rajab due to expected increase in the number of pilgrims in Ramadan.

Since every Muslim wishes to spend his maximum time in Makkah and Madina during the holy month of Ramadan, but due to expansion and construction work of Harram, the Saudi government chalked out a strategy to provide hassle-free services to Umrah pilgrims. Though, the pilgrims would face problems, but the travel agents contrary to this were happy since in this way, they would be in position to send maximum pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and earn more money.  A travel agent namely Ijaz said that the Saudi government has imposed ban on the issuance of new Umrah visas for the last three days.  “I sent passports of pilgrims for Umrah visa on Saturday but there is no response so far and I fear that it will take two to three more days for approval of the same”, said a travel agent seeking anonymity. He said that some travel agents were violating the rules and regulations, and sent pilgrims for 21 days despite restriction imposed by the Saudi government.

Some circles of the tour operators and Haj organisers think that the restrictions were the outcome of Saudi-Yemen war but many of them took it as a matter of routine.  A travel agent namely Arshad said that the Saudi govt had imposed ban on the issuance of visas from May 15 to 30 last year. He feared that rates of Umrah and cost of visa fee would go up alarmingly from Rajab onward.  Umrah package which is available in normal days from Rs30,000 to Rs40,000 would climb up to Rs80,000 to Rs90,000 and similarly, the Umrah rate which is Rs46,000 after Haj would go as high as Rs85,000 by the holy month of Ramadan.