The United Arab Emirates embassy in Ottawa has announced it will be charging Canadians up to $1,000 for visas starting next week - seemingly punitive pricing that exceeds global norms.
But the fees as posted on the embassy's website are questionable, since they don't square with what others are charging Canadians for the same travel documents. UAE-based airlines and hotels are already facilitating the new visas now required for visiting Canadians, but they are not charging unduly harsh rates.
No citizen of any other Western country needs a visa to enter the UAE, which announced months ago that Canadians would lose their favoured-guest status amid an ongoing bilateral row over aviation rights. The policy is to take effect Jan. 2, though the precise details have never been officially spelled out.
In recent months, UAE officials have kicked hundreds of Canadian soldiers out of a secret military base in Dubai, threatened to keep Canadian-made BlackBerry devices out of the local market and even accused Ottawa officials of harbouring Israeli Mossad assassins.
All of this has taken place amid the Conservative government's refusal to open more Canadian routes to Dubai-based airlines, after the rulers of the Persian Gulf nation thought they had built up considerable goodwill with Ottawa.
The UAE embassy in Ottawa quietly posted a new policy saying it would be seeking $250 for a 30-day visa for Canadians, $500 for a three-month visa and $1,000 for a six-month visa. Embassy officials could not be reached to confirm the pricing structure. The embassy reopens on Wednesday.
If the embassy charges the posted fees, Canadians who plan to visit the UAE are better off arranging their documents through Dubai-based airlines. The Etihad Airlines website says the airline can facilitate a month-long visa for visiting Canadians at a cost of only $83, while representatives of Emirates Airlines said their fees are slightly less. Neither had information about any three-month or six-month visa rate.
The airlines' rates for Canadian visas are more in line with global norms than those advertised by the UAE embassy, which are roughly triple the going rate.
Whatever the price of the new visas, they will represent an inconvenience for Canadians visitors who had been accustomed to paying nothing to enter the UAE.
The new fees, as announced on the UAE embassy website, "would drop down my visits," said Saif al-Naib, a 27-year-old MBA student at Toronto's Ryerson University.
The Canadian citizen was born to Iraqi parents who work in Abu Dhabi. He said he typically visits his family there at least once a year but said if expensive new fees are enacted, he might reconsider. "If there's no real reason for me to go down, then I might hold off."
He said the Canadian government will have to offer up some sort of olive branch to the Emirates if it wants to see the visa requirements waived. The rulers in the Persian Gulf nation " have a lot of pride and they won't back down," he said.
Canadian Dany Assaf, a lawyer who this year opened a Dubai office for the Bennett Jones law firm and travels there regularly, said Canadian diplomats have specifically told him Canadians are not being singled out for any higher visa rates.
"I did speak with our consul-general here on Monday and they gave me the numbers. What they told me was Canada is not being treated any differently," he told The Globe and Mail in a telephone interview from Dubai. "They have not created any new categories or laws or anything for Canada," he stressed, pointing out that the hotels, airlines and other businesses are now charging Canadians the same rates as what is charged other foreigners who require visas.
More than 25,000 Canadian citizens reside and work in the UAE. It's also estimated that more than $1-billion is traded between the two countries annually. Business groups are complaining that the visas will inevitably affect trade and travel.
A Canadian government spokeswoman said Monday she could not speak to the visa issue, beyond acknowledging there is one. "The decision to impose visas on Canadians travelling to the UAE was made by the UAE in 2009 and is now being implemented," Melissa Lantsman, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said in an e-mail.