Saturday, November 15, 2008

Unequal treatment

We had a family emergency last month. My parents traveled to Germany immediately after my daughter's birth. While they were there my mom started to feel increasing pain in her abdomen and finally was taken to the emergency room where it was determined that she had gallstones which would require the removal of the gallbladder. As soon as I heard the news I immediately decided that I would fly to Frankfurt to be there. Luckily, I had taken a one year Schengen visa when I went to France and Germany earlier this year.

My brother wanted to go too, but he was at the mercy of the German embassy. You see, the standard procedure for getting a visa to Germany usually takes about two weeks. With the use of wasta, including official letters from the government here to the embassy requesting them to issue an expedited visa, the procedure was still going to take 5 working days. My brother asked for a meeting with the German ambassador to see if maybe he can get him to expedite the procedure. He took with him copies of medical records and explained to the ambassador why he wanted to travel to Germany. The ambassador replied to him that this isn't really an emergency because my father is there with my mother in Germany. If she was there alone, then it would be considered one. Apparently, my brother could be using my mother's situation as an excuse to get into Germany!

Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Long story short, my brother got the visa four days later and arrived the night before our mother's operation. Everything went well, al-hamd lillah, and she's back in Oman now.

The reason I'm writing this post is that I am pissed off that Oman has a visa on arrival policy for countries that don't have quick visa procedures for Omani citizens. A German can step off a plane at Muscat International Airport and get a visa to stay in Oman for 14 days at the affordable price of 7 Omani Rials. Whereas we Omanis have to subject ourselves to all types of poking and prodding to be "allowed" to visit their country. We have to show bank account statements and get letters from our employers and salary statements. We have to show our hotel bookings. If we are going on business we need letters of invitation from the companies we're going to visit. And even after we receive the visa, when we arrive in their country we have to go through a whole other barrage of questions and answers. "Why are you here? Where are you staying? Have you been here before..."

As an official in the German embassy told me last year when I first went there to get a visa: this is policy, it is not just for Oman. (I heard this sentence from officals in the US, UK and French embassy as well).
Policy is policy, fair enough. The German government does not want people to get easy visas. It's their country and it's their choice. They have a problem with people coming to Germany and then seeking asylum or staying on illegally. I haven't heard of any Omanis migrating to Germany, but as the woman in the embassy said, "this is policy", and I swore at that time to never let myself go through their crap again. And when I had to go to Germany again, I applied for a Schengen visa from the French embassy.

But why doesn't our government apply a policy of equal treatment? Countries that don't give quick visas for Omanis should have a similar policy applied to their citizens by the Omani government. If it takes two weeks for an Omani to obtain a German visa, German citizens shouldn't be given visas on arrival here in Oman. Will that stop Germans from visiting Oman? I don't think so. They'll just have to plan their visits and allow for the time it takes to get the Omani visa. After all, we still go to their countries even though we have to go through a hassle to get their visas.

21 comments:

Amjad said...

Muscati, Thank you so very freaking much for hitting the nail right on the head. It is indeed unfair and frustrating.

I don't even want to go into my own experience with the US embassy in Muscat. But I think I cannot complain since my country of citizenship does not have good relations with the United States in the first place, so I am the victim. Though, I think being a resident of Oman for more than 20 years helped, just a little bit.

Balqis said...

Just a personal guess
If we open, then we must do for everybody
And the flow of northern Africans we have [at least to Italy, Malta and few others] would become more than the double
So we should build a scheme like Oman [first and second list countries]
Even if it was technically possible, that would upset people like Ghaddafi on whom we're highly dependent for energy and liquidity in our banks
Actually unofficially most of these also pay big money to keep a certain flow of their citizens towards our places, to avoid internal rebellions
All in all, things would get more complicated
Am surprised anyway by the Ambassador answer
That was very rude indeed

kapil said...

Nothing personal mate, but as an Indian citizen, I can also rant about the same thing. When Omani's travel to India for medical purposes, they are let in easily as compared to Indians allowed into Oman.

Things are balancing themselves out, but double-standards?

But this problem looked genuine, so, i would say it was unfair.

Arabian Princess said...

I was going to say the same thing Kapil said. We enter Malaysia without a Visa, but malaysian needs a visa here. It used to be the same with thailand until changed the policy and now we need visa ..

I guess thats how the world goes .. you a super power country, you can bully others. you have less power, you bully the weaker .. and so it goes.

sythe said...

If you don't like it, don't go there. Simple. Of course, if you want to go to these countries, then you should do what is necessary.

Amjad, you wanted to go to the USA to learn, you went there on your own accord, and so you have to do what is necessary to go.

I do agree with the logic though, Muscati. But in this modern world of terrorism, its not going to happen any time soon.

Besides, Germany sends the largest number of tourists to Oman, so if the visa policy is changed, it will effect tourism here, in my opinion.

Amjad said...

Sythe:

I'm not sure if the "if you don't like it, don't go there" part was directed to me or not, but if it was, then I think I need to clarify once more that I'm not complaining, sir/madam =). And as I said in my earlier comment, I can't even complain because my country of citizenship does not have good relations with the US in the first place, and that being a resident of Oman for all these years (in my opinion) helped things go kind of smooth in my case. So actually I should be thankful, even though I have to go through this hassle every single time I get out of the US (something not all International Students in the US go through).

omanvirtually said...

Glad your mother has recovered – its not nice to be ill without family in a foreign land. To extend the topic slightly – from a European point of view the purchase of property, ownership of businesses, sponsorship within Oman might also be brought within the policy of equal treatment.

illogicist said...

Sorry to hear about your mother, glad she's ok.

From what I hear, the number one source of tourists to Oman is Germany. Considering Oman is in full overdrive when it comes to the tourism industry these days, its understandable that they dont want to do anything that would affect the flow of tourism cash from Germany.

I dont know the number of Omanis in Germany, or the number who travel to Germany per year, but it may not be worth the diplomatic headache - at least to those who would have to negotiate it.

Muscato said...

What you're talking about is reciprocity, which actually does play into how countries look at visas. For Americans, for example, you're right: they get visas on arrival here in Oman. But they're single-entry, short term, and extending them is a hassle.

Omanis, by contrast, routinely get two-year multiple-entry visas to the States. Oman would have a stronger argument for less hassle in getting a U.S. visa (which is still pretty fast for most applicants) if its own visa regimen were less restrictive.

And what about non-Gulf Arabs who practically can't get here at all? I have a wealthy Egyptian friend who's given up trying to get an Omani visa, because he's coming to stay with us, not through a holiday package...

muscati said...

balqis - I am not asking for any country to change their policy or visa procedure to make it easier for Omanis to enter. Fair is fair. They have a policy and that's their right. It's only fair to apply the same policy across the board. What I'm asking for is reciprocity.

kapil - India's visa procedure isn't as easy as you make it seem. They don't take weeks like a Schengen or US visa, but they aren't exactly as easy as a Visa on Arrival.

arabian princess - according to the ROP website which I linked, Malaysians and Thais are eligible for visa on arrival. I've been to Thailand twice in the past year and both times I didn't need a visa.

sythe - I fully agree with you. If it wasn't for necessity then I wouldn't have gone to Germany. I've been there three times in the past 14 months and all the visits have been for medical reasons. I don't agree with the US's visa policy and racial profiling, so I haven't gone there in ten years. And this is a country that I love, which I have lived in for more than 5 years, and which I have been visiting since I was a child. Post-9/11 when the US started its new policies to regulate visitors, we Omanis went from getting our US visas in one day, to having to wait as much as 4 months for a visa. At that time, I chose to start taking my vacations in other countries. I've visited a lot of countries that I haven't been to before, and as I progressed in my career and my earnings increased, this translated in my vacation spending getting bigger and bigger, none of which is benefiting the US.

As for your comment on Germany sending more tourists to Oman than any other country, yes this is absolutely true. But they have been sending more tourists here since a long time. Long before our visa on arrival policy. Even back when Oman had one of the strictest visa policies in the world and it was virtually impossible for people to get tourist visas for Oman, Germans were still willing to go through the hassle of going through the procedure. It used to be that they could only come as part of tour groups sponsored by 5 star hotels or local travel companies. It didn't stop them then. It won't stop them now.

By the way, while Germans come to Oman on packaged deals which give them hotel rooms much lower than the rack rate, my mother's hospital room cost 1000 Euros a night.

Balqis said...

Then why Gulf governments don't react ?
The only comment I read was from Sheikh Mohammed some months ago saying that if they make it so tough for Emaratis then the UAE might apply the same reasoning

SWEeTs said...

the same thing happened to me last month!!

i had my one year Schengen visa from the french embassy as well but it was about to end during my trip, so i went to the German embassy to make a new one.


I went in, greeted the guy and handed my bundle of papers(all set & Ready).

The guy there looked at my papers and says some words in Hindi i dont understand then "Not Applicable" and through my passport on the side of the table and gave me his back!

me as polite as quite as possible tried to ask for reasons,"excuse me, is there something missing", "hello...why are you not talking", trying to know if anything is incomplete and the man just kept giving me his back.no answer.

no matter what impression i gave he should have never through my passport, that pissed me off. I complained to the embassy, wrote an email to our concerned parts and tried to talk to the ambassador but she refused and transferred me to another guy who agreed my papers werent missing anything. simply apologized and apparently this was not the first time some one complains about his attitude but simply they have no one else to do the job but him!!

eventually i had to travel with my French Schengen visa but i would never wanna put foot again in the German Embassy in Oman. I had to travel with the idea of hating the Germans but when i went there, i felt so bad for impression the german embassy in Oman is giving on Germans.

fusion said...

Muscati... The only answer to your question is related to Oman opening its borders to tourism... And I mean quality Tourism...

Having the same policies to them to apply for the Omani visa may hinder their decision to visit Oman.

Humaid said...

It is quite difficult especially at the Germany Embassy. Last summer, I made my booking (Tickets and Hotels) to spend my summer holiday in Europe. I went to the office rented by the UK embassy to get their visa. It was very well organized. The only things I gave them were my passport, picture, form of application and salary statement. It was so comfortable and quick. Few days after that, I headed to the German Embassy but it was not a very pleasant experience. I headed there with the same documents. I had to stand on my leg for over an hour waiting to get a chair of the 5 chairs available. Most of the people who were coming to apply for a visa rejected on a very rude way by the Indian fellow sitting there. NOT even a SMILE! It was the same for me – No insurance! He through my paper and passport! I was about to cancel my booking to Germany because of this! I sent an E-mail complaining about all the things that I was upsetting me. They replied – Wish was good- with a long list of justification! Germany is a nice country but I will never be back to their Embassy here in Oman!

I would agree that sitting a procedure might hinder Germans to come to Oman but we want good quality tourists! Since I know German I find many Germans who wear shorts in public places like Traditional Markets (Souqs) which I find a little bit annoying.
We welcome everybody here in Oman but we always argue of good quality tourists.
Regards,
Omani in Oman

Jet Driver said...

Muscati - I hope that everything is still going well for your mother.

It is very frustrating to deal with visas in a lot of countries.

Unfortunately there is no bi-lateral agreement between Oman and Germany for your countrymen to visit Europe on an ad-hoc basis.

Maybe the situation will change soon insha'allah

Hafiz Yahya Al Madrasi Al Omani said...

The matter is simple. Even if they make it difficult for Omanis. Oman will not make it difficult as the losers are themselves only whereas Germans can go anywhere. They really dont care!

Panton said...

I had to deal with the german embassy in Oman to invite some omani friends to Germany. Problems arose partly because I did not know the procedure and partly because of some very impolite indian I spoke to on the fone, who was giving my friends a hard time. Not pleasant at all but the second time around we all knew what to do and from then on it has been easy every time.
I hope your mother got good treatment, in spite of the staggering costs.
The differences in regulations are certainly not fair and by their nature they make no allowance for individual cases which can be frustrating.
Still, for omanis getting a german visa is easy if you know what to do and make it past those indian employees who seem to be more "german" than they need to be.

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