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DUBAI: A Dubai-based Indian businessman said that he chartered nine flights to enable 1,980 visit visa holders to change their visa, just before the suspension of new visas came to effect in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a measure against the coronavirus pandemic.

The UAE on March 14 announced that issuance of all new visas, except for diplomats, would be temporarily suspended from March 17 until further notice, Gulf News reported.

As soon as the announcement was made, hundreds of visit visa holders went into a panic as they were torn between flying back to their home countries under the current circumstances and being stranded here without valid visas. It later emerged that those inside the country could avail visa changes from within the country itself.

However, before this clarification came about, Afi Ahmed, Managing Director of Smart Travel, an authorised visa change dealer of a UAE-based airline, decided to charter nine flights.

“Almost 60 per cent of the visa holders were our customers. They were all scared about going home or getting stranded here. When there was such a large number of people panicking about their visa change within the deadline, I decided to charter the flights,” Ahmed told Gulf News.

He said the rest of the passengers were customers of other partner agencies. A vast majority of the passengers’ visas were about to expire.

“There were a few people whose visas had already expired. They had to pay the fine,” he said.

He said he chartered nine flights with 189-passenger capacity to Muscat and they operated from 10 p.m. on March 15 till 3p.m. on March 16.

“Usually, we send around 30 to 40 customers per flight for their visa run. These flights were exclusively for visit visa holders. Once they exited from here, we applied for their visas in cooperation with our partners. Only four people’s visas were not approved on the same day due to certain reasons. They were flown back home.” IANS