(MENAFN - Arab News) The Haj Ministry says foreign agents are to blame for various fraudulent practices including pilgrims overstaying in the Kingdom by giving visas to the wives of workers here and young men seeking jobs.
Abdullah Al-Qadi, vice chairman of the ministry's national Haj and Umrah committee, said foreign agents also sell packages that they could not deliver.
"Some of these agencies also do not clarify what services they offer, including the location of hotels, proximity to the Grand Mosque, and the availability of separate toilets and rooms," said Al-Qadi.
He said several of these agents also change the arrival dates of their groups without informing their Saudi counterparts in the Kingdom, causing a great deal of confusion.
"The main reason for pilgrims overstaying is that foreign agents do not enforce measures that ensure this will not happen," said Al-Qadi.
He said agents provide Umrah visas to women whose husbands work in the Kingdom knowing that they would stay. "Some also give visas to young men seeking work in the Kingdom."
In a statement issued recently, the Haj Ministry warned foreign Haj and Umrah agents that they would be banned if more than 1 percent of their incoming pilgrims stayed over in the Kingdom.
Adnan Hariri, director general for Umrah affairs at the ministry, said foreign agents found violating regulations would not be given Umrah visas. He said the ministry has offices in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah where pilgrims can complain about services.
He said the ministry would not process the paperwork of agents unless they can confirm their contracts abroad. He rejected reports that the Kingdom's embassies charge for visas.
He said a study conducted by government bodies showed that overstaying had decreased from 25 percent in 2001 to 0.12 percent currently.
"Since this system was applied 13 years ago, the ratio has decreased significantly," he said.