The United Arab Emirates embassy in Ottawa said Thursday that it is not singling out Canadians through the pricing of its newly imposed visa scheme - a statement that remains at odds with the fee structures listed by other UAE websites.
Starting on Jan. 2, Canadians will cease to be among the preferred foreigners who can visit the Persian Gulf nation without travel documents. The downgrading of Canadian passports is being imposed as the Conservative government locks horns with UAE-based air carriers over landing rights.
Because Canadians have fallen from the good graces of the UAE's ruling elite, they will now have to submit visa applications and pay fees before flying to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. This is occurring even as citizens of more than 30 countries - from the United States to Lichtenstein - will continue to be on the visa-exempt list, and be given visas free of charge upon arrival.
UAE-based airlines say they can facilitate the process for Canadians at a minimal cost - $75 to $85 for a 30-day visa.
Yet the UAE embassy in Ottawa has posted a different pricing structure altogether. Diplomats there say they will be seeking $250 from Canadians for a 30-day visa, $500 for a 90-day visa and $1,000 for a six-month visa.
The officials insist these rates are not exorbitant or out of line with global norms. "The Embassy would like to add that the categories of visas and related fees as posted on its website are part of a universal visa system which is used by all UAE missions abroad without exception," it said in a new statement posted to its website on Thursday.
But those prices contradict what is listed on the UAE government's own official tourist site - where the same numbers are being used, but in different currencies: The prices are listed in UAE dirhams, not Canadian dollars.
This site, known as UAE Interact, suggests that any non-visa-exempt foreigners need only pay 500 UAE dirhams for a 90-day visa (about $136 Canadian) and 1,000 dirhams ($272) for a six-month visa.
Could something have been lost in translation?
"At the moment we don't have any additional comments," said a woman who identified herself as a media-relations official at the embassy. She referred concerned Canadians to the website. "Whatever is there, this is the latest thing the embassy has."
She said she couldn't speak to whether any Canadians were actually buying visas from the embassy. She said she would not identify herself for "security reasons."
The ambassador to Canada was travelling, she said, adding that the rest of the embassy's diplomats were tied up in meetings. When pressed as to whether she could say anything beyond what was on the embassy's website, the media-relations official said that "I don't have the authority to make any comments."
UAE citizens have long required visas to enter Canada, typically paying the standard rates of $75 to $150.
With a report from Bill Curry in Ottawa