With the increase in the price of haj over the last few years, the recent amendments to visa fees in Saudi Arabia might be considered good news to those saving for the spiritual journey. As reported by Al-Arabiya, the Ministry of Haj has indicated that the new fee structure, which comes into effect from the 2nd of October 2016, will see all visa fees completely waived and fully paid for by the Saudi government for all first-time pilgrims going for either Hajj or Umrah. The South African Haj and Umrah Council (SAHUC) says that the only visa costs that first times pilgrims can expect to pay is an administration fee.
Speaking to VOC, SAHUC president Shaheen Essop explains that the visa regulations come on the back of economic restraints within the Kingdom, which he attributes to decline in oil production.
“If you look at where the oil prices have come from over the last few months, in excess of $140 to $40 a barrel, the income that that country produced reduced quite considerably. So they need to find more ways that is going to assist in sustaining their budget deficit,” Essop stated.
He says that with the price of haj increasing, South African hujjaaj still pay less than most other nationalities.
“South African haj packages are still relatively cheap considering that we have couple rooms and it comes down to less than $5000 dollars.”
He attributes the price of haj that South Africans pay to their early departure, where other nationalities tend to descend on the kingdom in peak periods.
Essop further notes that while social media is rife with reports of the change in visa regulations for pilgrims, very limited information is currently available.
He confirmed that SAHUC is awaiting further information on the matter.
In response to social media circulations that state that hujjaaj are required to pay R2000 for Visa’s, Essop says that social media messages can often mislead the public and that SAHUC is yet to receive further information.
“Let us gather more information from the source, which is the kingdom of Saudi Arabian authority, and thereafter we can give a more informed discussion.”
Based on the released article, he says that first time haj and umrah pilgrims will not be charged for their visas and, thereafter, a fee of R2000 will be levied on each pilgrim and mu’tamireen.
With the exception of one or glitches, Essop affirmed that all 2016 haj preparations are in full swing.
“We have had some delays with regards to a few visas, but nothing untoward – operation are going very smoothly on the ground and at all departing airports.”