From 17th April Umrah visas will be valid for 15 days from date of issue. The notice has been sent from the Saudi Embassy in London to all Hajj & Umrah agencies in the United Kingdom. The notice does not say how long this will last, but it is clear that the move is in order to reduce the number of pilgrims during Ramadan (possibly beyond) whilst the expansion of Masjid Al Haram is completed.
This may pose problems for both agents booking flights and accommodation for their passengers as well as individuals and families due to the time delay from when a passport is stamped with a visas to when the passenger receives their passports and is able to travel ultimately reducing the actual number of days they are able to spend in the holy cities. Furthermore, this is likely to encourage unscrupulous behaviour from some ‘would be’ agents who are likely to prey on pilgrim emotions and promise them visas in record time at a costs as we have seen in previous years which will not materialise.
We advise all pilgrims to book with Ministry of Hajj licensed tour operators and those who hold a valid Ait Travel Organisers License (ATOL) to ensure their bookings are protected. It is highly likely that the Ministry of Hajj may introduce further last minute rule changes (similar to last year which meant hundreds of families losing out both financially and spiritually as they did not receive the visas in time and therefore could not travel).
Agents will be under pressure to ensure that their pilgrims do not violate the new rule and leave Saudi Arabia within the 15 days. So if you’re one of those who books and plans their Umrah independently and have obtained visas from agents in the past for a nominal fee, chances are you will not only end up paying inflated prices for the visas but in most cases the agents will only sell you a package (as per their agreement with the Ministry of Hajj) and you may end up losing out on any flights or accommodation that you may have booked.
We would like encourage all travel to the Haramains for both Hajj and Umrah. However in light of the haram expansion and to ensure safety of pilgrims there will have to be a compromise for individuals and families on the duration of stay so that others can also perform Umrah during the holy months of Shaban and Ramadan.
To date there has been no retraction from the Ministry of Hajj on the 5 year rule for Hajj.
The reductions and enforcement has been as a direct result of the current Masjid Al Haram Expansion works which is due to be carried out over the next 2 years.