Saudi Arabia has increased its visa fees by seven-fold for foreigners seeking to do business in the kingdom. The visa fee hike, however, could deter the much-needed foreign investment in the oil-dependent economy of the country, according to diplomats.
The Saudi government has increased the fees under one of the measures to cover revenue losses arising out of lower oil prices, which have decreased by almost 68 percent over the past few years.
Several diplomats are of the opinion that the step taken by the kingdom is likely to take a turn for the worse as investors would not opt to choose a country with such a huge visa fee.
"It's incredibly short-sighted. They're obviously bleeding and they want to put the cost on foreigners as much as they can. They're obviously bleeding and they want to put the cost on foreigners as much as they can," a Riyadh-based diplomat was quoted as saying by AFP.
"We are expecting to see business reconsider Saudi as a market. It's certainly happening already, though not in a major way," a Western envoy said.
A six-month business or work-visit visa in the kingdom allowing multiple entries will cost 3,000 riyals ($800) from October, general manager of Gulf Consulting House Ala Siyam said. The visa fee before the hike amounted to 400 riyals.
Siyam also added that the change in fee amount does not apply to the countries of the European Union and the United States. Visa fee for British nationals, however, has seen only a slight increase.
Most of the other countries will have to pay high visa charges, although they have an option to apply for one- or two-year visas, which would cost 5,000 riyals and 8,000 riyals, respectively.
Saudi Arabia today is India's fourth largest trade partner (after China, the US and the UAE) and is a major source of energy as India imports around 20% of its crude oil requirement.
Over 3.05 million Indian expatriates are currently working in Saudi Arabia. They participate in the entire spectrum of Saudi economy -- from high-end scientific and research jobs to construction -- and contribute immensely to the host country's economy. They play a vital role in strengthening the India-Saudi bilateral relations. However, more than 10,000 Indian workers were recently stranded without food and shelter in Saudi Arabia in July after being laid off by Saudi construction firms.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday said that retrenched Indian workers of Saudi Arabia's Saad group have started returning to India.