UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said the decision to suspend the issuance of visas to Pakistani citizens was taken due to the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions are "temporary", it emerged on Sunday.
The United Arab Emirates had last month temporarily stopped issuing new visas to citizens of Pakistan and at least 11 other mostly Muslim majority countries
In a statement on Saturday, Foreign Minister Nahyan "affirmed the depth of the bilateral relations between the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and recalled the keenness of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on the relations during the early stages of establishment".
He stressed "the temporary nature of the recent restrictions imposed on the issuance of visas due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic", according to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation.
The move comes as a surprise because, even though Covid-19 infections and deaths have seen a rise in Pakistan in recent weeks, the country has been praised by the World Health Organisation, among others, for its handling of the health crisis. Some other countries with much higher caseloads were not barred by the UAE.
The statement was issued after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi paid a two-day official visit to the UAE during which he held meetings with the top Emirati leadership.
Qureshi had met Nahyan on Thursday. He had apprised his counterpart of the difficulties being faced by the Pakistani community in the UAE, but no discussion about the visa issue was made public at the time.
During Qureshi's visit, the two sides exchanged views on the latest developments in the region and discussed ways to coordinate responses on issues of interest, the UAE foreign ministry said.
Nahyan "affirmed the depth of the distinguished relations between the two friendly countries and the keenness to enhance and develop further aspects of joint cooperation across all fields".
He reiterated the UAE’s appreciation of the Pakistani community in the Gulf country, saying more than 1.5 million members of the Pakistani diaspora enjoyed safety and stability in "their second country the UAE". He also praised their "great role and active contribution" to the growth and prosperity of the UAE.
Recalling that Pakistan was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE, Nahyan said the two friendly peoples and countries shared strong historical ties that "enhance prospects of their broad cooperation across all fields", according to the ministry's handout.
"The close relations between the UAE and Pakistan have continued to strengthen over the past decades and translated into multi-faceted cooperation, which represents a unique case in Arab-Asian relations in the region, as political relations between the UAE and Pakistan are based on a long history of joint action, trust, and respect," the UAE foreign minister said.
"The UAE and Pakistan enjoy close relations and historical ties across political, economic, cultural and social domains, established on solid foundations of mutual friendship and respect."
In a statement on Sunday, the Foreign Office in Islamabad said Foreign Minister Qureshi in his meetings with the Emirati leadership had raised the issues pertaining to visa restrictions on Pakistani nationals as well as the welfare of the Pakistani diaspora in the UAE, among other matters.
"Qureshi was assured that the visa restrictions were temporary in nature and were imposed due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic," it added.
After the UAE visa suspension in November, the Foreign Office had said the decision was "believed to be related to the second wave of Covid-19" but added that it had reached out to UAE to seek further clarity. The FO had, however, made clear that the suspension did not apply to those already holding valid visas.
Days later a report revealed the UAE had temporarily suspended the visas over security concerns. A source privy to the matter did not say what those concerns were but said the visa ban was expected to last for a short period.
Following that report, the FO denied there were security concerns that led to such a measure but this time said changes in UAE's visa policy had not been confirmed.