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House of Commons Hansard
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Petitions
08 February 2017
Volume 621

Petition

Wednesday 8 February 2017

OBSERVATIONS

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Visa fees for Pilgrimage to Hajj and Umrah by Saudi Arabia

The petition of residents of Leicester East,

Declares that the Ministry of Hajj of Saudi Arabia has decided to increase the visa fees for foreign visitors to visit the country in order to complete the Islamic pilgrimage for a second time. Hajj is one the Pillars of Islam that every Muslim must complete once in their life time by visiting Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The increase in visa fees will cause hardship to many people who wish to perform this pilgrimage for a second time, which is sometimes carried out on behalf of a family member who is unable to carry out the pilgrimage due to ill health or age.

The petitioners therefore request that Her Majesty’s Government makes representations to the Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia which is chaired by the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Naif to reconsider the decision to increase the visa fees.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Keith Vaz, Official Report, 29 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 1491.]

[P001984]

Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood):

In 2016, 18,500 British pilgrims performed the Hajj. The Hajj visa quota for UK pilgrims granted by the Saudi Arabian Government is generous—it is one of the highest per capita participation rates of non-Muslim majority countries. For 2017, the total is expected to rise to around 23,000 visas for British Muslims.

The Saudi Arabian authorities do not charge a fee for visas for first time pilgrims for Hajj or Umrah, which makes it possible for all Muslims to fulfil their religious duty to make one pilgrimage during their lifetime without payment of a visa fee.

Officials at the British Embassy in Riyadh have raised the issue of charges for second and subsequent Hajj pilgrimage visas with the Saudi Arabian Government. Our ability to persuade the Government to waive such charges is limited, as visa policy remains the prerogative of the host country in this as in all other cases. I can understand the frustration that your constituents must feel. The British Embassy has however been successful in negotiating reduced general visit visa fees for the holders of British passports; the Saudi Arabian Government have set these at a level which roughly matches UK charges for visas for the UK. This is substantially below the level applicable to the holders of most other kinds of passport.