Muscat: Expat visa fees are set to pour more than OMR15 million extra into Oman’s coffers every year, as Royal Oman Police (ROP) introduces a new charge which companies will have to pay.
From January 1 this year, the ROP began charging companies OMR20 to process new visas, or renewals, for all expatriate workers. Earlier, the service was free, with fees only charged for family members of expats.
As of November data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), there were 1,682,752 expatriates workers in Oman. If that number holds steady over the next two years (the lifetime of a single visa), and new arrivals and renewals balance out departures, then those numbers will generate OMR33,655,040 in fees by the end of 2017, a little more than OMR16.82 million per year added to the country’s finances.
The sum is fluid and depends on the level of expat worker numbers, and it remains a drop in the ocean as far as Oman’s predicted budget deficit of OMR3.3 billion for 2016, it does show how the government’s plan to increase fees for services will generate income, Oman Chamber of Commerce (OCCI) member, Ahmed Al Hooti welcomed the move, but said he doubted if such an amount would minimise the budget deficit of the country.
“It’s quite difficult to believe that such an amount will make a big change in the country’s financial budget, but at least it will have good impact on reducing the deficit of the country.”
He added that it would be more effective if other government bodies also announce similar moves.
Salim Al Ghammari, a Muscat Municipal Council member, said: “This was supposed to have started many years ago. The government should start charging more for its services, especially for expatriates.”
He added that it’s never too late to impose a service fee, however, if the country had started doing this five years ago, the financial situation could have been better.
“Many countries impose a higher fee for services provided for expats. That will reduce the dependence on oil revenue in the coming years,” said Al Ghammari.
Faisal Al Wahaibi, who works in the public relations department of a company, said his company had to pay OMR20 to renew the visa for a staff some days ago.
He further explained how companies would become liable to pay such fees. “I guess such fees will be imposed on companies rather than expat employees, but after all this will help the country’s finances and subsequently help everybody living on this land.”
Rashid Khalfan, the owner of a construction company, said his company would have to pay such fees, but expressed his concern if it is raised further. “It’s okay now to pay the fees for my employees, but I am afraid the fee might be hiked in future,” he said.
Rashid added that the government should also understand the companies’ situation, especially those struggling in the market.
The decision to levy such a fee comes in the wake of a number of similar measures adopted by the Sultanate to embrace cost-cutting measures and reduce subsidies.
Tonia Gray, general manager at Competence HR, said it was essential and understandable in the current economic climate, for any government-related authority to consider raising income and reducing costs, and the proposed OMR20 fee the ROP will charge for renewal of working visa should not be passed on to the employee.
“My understanding is that all costs related to labour cards (and therefore the residence card) should be paid for by the company. The Oman Labour Law states, ‘Neither the employer or the person licensed to provide foreign workers shall charge the worker any sum in consideration of his employment.’ Now this could refer to payments for providing the work, but in a wider sense does also refer to costs related to legitimatising the employment e.g. labour cards,” she said.
In her view, costs related to the employment of an individual should be borne by the company, however, costs related to renewal of family members residency could be a different matter.