Egypt's Visa Laws Bad for Business

Egypt’s economy has significantly faltered in recent months due to uncertainty resulting from the current political landscape. Based on these changes, it is surprising that visa policies have also changed, making it more difficult for tourists to renew their visas, and putting into question the legal status of countless expatriates currently living in the country. Further, this can conceivably reduce future educational tourism to a country that desperately relies on it as an economic source.

Until recently, very little was needed to receive up to a year-long tourist visa; these visas were renewable without issue as desired. This is particularly true for Canadian, EU and U.S. passport holders. Over-staying a visa meant that you paid a fine either upon renewing a visa or at airport customs upon departure. Unless you wanted a special student visa, no documentation was required.

Under the new regulations, the renewal of visas is becoming much more difficult and the documentation needed to receive one is becoming more stringent. Egypt is a common destination for Arabic language study, and until these changes went into effect, it was quite easy to obtain a visa allowing for study at any of a plethora of language centers or with a private tutor. Now, the government is only going to offer visas if students are enrolled in a national university.

As a sovereign nation, Egypt has the right to regulate its immigration policies to suit their own desires. The number of expatriates who work illegally in Egypt is staggering, and something that would be heavily regulated in many other countries. Tourism and language study, however are major economic contributors and these new visa regulations, if adamantly enforced, could create a number of problems.

First, it puts the smaller language centers and private tutors at risk of losing substantial income. Second, it risks increasing the number of people illegally residing in the country. Third, it runs the risk of hurting revenue.

As tourism is one of the largest income generators for the country, making it more difficult for tourism to happen seems shortsighted. Projections are already expecting tourism revenues to decline $11 billion in 2011. Although investment forecasts are optimistic, the turn around is going to take time.

In the meantime, taxi drivers routinely complain that they are barely making their daily minimum, if they make it at all. Most taxi drivers do not own their own taxis and have to pay an average of 75 EGP (approximately $12) to the taxi owner daily, anything above this is theirs to keep.

Egypt needs the revenue. Until the investments increase, tourism and students are going to provide an important element of the economy. If tourism declines too much more and the smaller language schools and private tutors lose enrollment levels, the strain on the economy could be serious. The economic landscape does not have the room to allow people to easily move sectors, and the global economic downturn in 2009 didn’t help the already fragile economy. Add this to the mix and Egypt is facing serious economic concerns.

Photo Credit: Kathleen O'Neill

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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