An Iraqi government spokesman said that the Baghdad government has decided to grant foreign oil company workers in Iraq assistance in obtaining entry visas and residency permits, following many complaints of difficulties faced by employees and engineers in entering Iraq to work for oil companies.
Faisal Abdullah, the spokesman for energy affairs for Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, told Al-Monitor that Shahristani held a meeting with the general director of the Department of Nationality in the Ministry of Interior and the general director of the Contracts Department in the Oil Ministry. During the meeting, the parties discussed facilitating the process of obtaining visas and residency permits for workers employed by foreign oil and power companies in Iraq.
Abdullah added that Shahristani’s office received many complaints regarding the delay in granting visas, thus obstructing the work of the companies.
Shahristani’s office oversees the ministries of oil and power, and is considered the main engineer of petroleum policies. Abdullah continued, “It takes foreign workers at least two months, sometimes three, to obtain a visa. We have received many complaints from foreign companies in this regard.”
“The meeting led to an agreement of cooperation between the departments of nationality, contracts and intelligence to guarantee that foreign workers employed by power and oil companies would receive a visa within two weeks at most,” he added.
Iraq signed contracts with several foreign oil companies in order to develop newly discovered oil fields.
While preliminary speculation had forecast that the country’s oil production would reach 12 million barrels per day by 2017, these estimates have been decreased to around 8 million barrels per day, according to specialists.
At end of February, the General Secretariat of the Iraqi government issued a statement calling on all governmental departments to apply the pertinent orders related to facilitating the visa process for foreigners.
According to the statement, the secretariat gave “the general director of the [Department of] Nationality, or the head of his mission or his nominee abroad, the authority to grant a multiple-entry visa for foreign investors, investment companies, businessmen, experts and workers, at the request of the ministry or government agency beneficiary.”
The statement indicated that “The Council of Ministers Resolution No. 80 of 2013, which stipulates that the ministry or government agencies’ beneficiary and the ministries of interior and foreign [affairs] notify the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, providing lists of names for the purpose of issuing work permits.” The article sets forth the need of the company's owner or the worker concerned to refer to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs within a month to receive the official forms.
It went on, “[We will continue] to work with the Council of Ministers’ decision and all directives issued by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers last year, which asked the Foreign Ministry to instruct all Iraqi embassies abroad to grant multiple [entry] visas to foreign companies. The federal ministries are planning to negotiate with these companies and the ones that already have contracts, at the request of the ministry or the competent authority, for the purpose of signing contracts for projects.”
Iraqi economists believe that their country’s inclination to facilitate entry visas and residency permits for foreign workers employed by oil companies might be an additional incentive to develop oil production — a sector currently in recovery.
Economist Fallah Hassan says, “Facilitating the entry process of foreign workers in the oil field to Iraq is gaining the attention of the Ministry of Oil. Moreover, we have heard many complaints from companies that won oil permits regarding the difficulties they face in guaranteeing entry visas for their members.”
The southern province of Basra, where the largest number of foreign oil companies operate, has demanded that the central government allow it to grant visas to foreigners. The committee stated that restricting the decision to grant entry visas to Baghdad will push investors away from the district.
Omar al-Shaher is a contributor to Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. His writing has appeared in a wide range of publications including France’s LeMonde, the Iraqi Alesbuyia magazine, Egypt’s Al-Ahaly and the Elaph website. He previously worked for Al-Mada covering political and security affairs and as a correspondent for the Kuwaiti Awan newspaper in Baghdad.