Visa amnesty dead­line de­ferred to De­cem­ber 1

▶ Res­i­dents with ex­pired doc­u­ments re­new pa­pers to take ad­van­tage of six-month win­dow

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - THE NA­TIONAL

The UAE visa amnesty scheme has been ex­tended un­til De­cem­ber 1, the Fed­eral Au­thor­ity of Iden­tity and Cit­i­zen­ship an­nounced yes­ter­day.

The ini­tia­tive, which be­gan in Au­gust, al­lows res­i­dents who have over­stayed their visas or peo­ple who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally to mod­ify their sta­tus and re­turn home or legally ex­tend their stay with­out fear of a fine or im­pris­on­ment.

Those who hope to leave the coun­try will be ex­empt of all fines, re­gard­less of their value, and will not be is­sued with a de­pri­va­tion stamp. Those wish­ing to stay can change their sta­tus for a nom­i­nal fee.

Brig Saeed Al Rashdi, act­ing di­rec­tor-gen­eral of For­eign Af­fairs and Ports at the au­thor­ity, said the de­ci­sion to ex­tend the dead­line is part of the UAE lead­er­ship’s plan to give of­fend­ers a sec­ond chance.

Thou­sands of res­i­dents with ex­pired doc­u­ments have ap­plied for short-term pass­ports since the start of the visa amnesty, hop­ing for a six-month win­dow in which to find work.

Al­most 1,800 short-term pass­ports have been is­sued by In­dia’s em­bassy and con­sulate since the start of the pro­gramme in Au­gust.

Job­seek­ers who over­stayed their visa can ob­tain a six­month self-spon­sored tem­po­rary per­mit un­der the amnesty that was yes­ter­day ex­tended un­til De­cem­ber 1.

Those on ex­pired visas were given a grace pe­riod to re­new their sta­tus or leave the coun­try vol­un­tar­ily with­out le­gal con­se­quences or fines.

A stan­dard In­dian pass­port is valid for 10 years, while short­term pass­ports usu­ally last for one or two years and can be is­sued im­me­di­ately.

An­other 3,868 emer­gency cer­tifi­cates – a one-way ticket out is­sued to peo­ple who lost their pass­ports or whose doc­u­ments were stolen or dam­aged, have been handed out by the In­dian em­bassy dur­ing the amnesty pro­gramme.

Navdeep Suri, the In­dian am­bas­sador to the UAE, said many peo­ple in des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions ap­plied for emer­gency cer­tifi­cates af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing tough times.

“When we talk to peo­ple who show up ask­ing for an emer­gency cer­tifi­cate, all they want is to go back home,” Mr Suri said. “You can see their des­per­a­tion.

“Some have been cheated by agents on the In­dian side or cheated by em­ploy­ers on this side. This hap­pens par­tic­u­larly in the un­skilled and semi-skilled cat­e­gory with the blue-col­lar work­ers.

“The emer­gency cer­tifi­cate is strictly a one-way travel doc­u­ment. For those who have taken emer­gency cer­tifi­cates back home, they can­not get a visa is­sued on this.”

Of­fi­cials in the UAE and overseas urged peo­ple to ob­tain work visas and not tourist visas when they seek em­ploy­ment in the UAE.

They warned against pay­ing un­scrupu­lous agents and ad­vised reg­is­ter­ing with au­tho­rised re­cruit­ment com­pa­nies that spec­ify the wages they will earn and the work they will per­form.

The In­dian Com­mu­nity Wel­fare Fund paid the air­fares of about 250 In­di­ans since Au­gust. Vol­un­teers and reg­is­tered char­i­ties from many coun­tries have stepped for­ward to pay for the tick­ets of broke work­ers un­able to af­ford the flight back home.

In­dia and Sri Lanka have among the largest num­ber of blue-col­lar work­ers in the UAE.

The Sri Lankan con­sulate said 504 of its na­tion­als se­cured exit passes to leave the coun­try dur­ing the amnesty.

“There has been a huge in­crease in new pass­port ap­pli­ca­tions,” said Chathura Weerasek­era at the Sri Lankan con­sulate. “Dur­ing the pe­riod of Au­gust to Oc­to­ber, we have re­ceived an av­er­age of 75 to 125 pass­port ap­pli­ca­tions a week.

“When we an­a­lysed the fig­ures, we found a 150 per cent in­crease in new pass­port ap­pli­ca­tions in three months.

“The amnesty was a com­mend­able step taken by the govern­ment. Peo­ple re­ally want to avail them­selves of that op­por­tu­nity and get their visa le­galised to stay in the coun­try. It is like a sec­ond home for Sri Lankans.”

Mr Weerasek­era said there was also an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple com­ing for­ward to take back pass­ports that had been handed over to the con­sulate by the im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties.

When a spon­sor lodges a com­plaint and files an ab­scond­ing case against an em­ployee who quits his or her job, their pass­port is handed over to the im­mi­gra­tion depart­ment or the po­lice.

These were handed by UAE au­thor­i­ties to con­sulates and em­bassies for dis­tri­bu­tion so work­ers could for­malise their sta­tus.

“The first thing we did was to check if the pass­port was avail­able in the sys­tem,” Mr Weerasek­era said.

“We re­ceived 2,655 pass­ports from im­mi­gra­tion for all the emi­rates and from this, af­ter we ver­i­fied the iden­tity of the per­sons, we is­sued 629 pass­ports to peo­ple.”

Peo­ple with ab­scond­ing re­ports filed against them can also ap­ply for amnesty and leave the UAE with­out penalty.

Vic­tor Besa / The Na­tional

Peo­ple line up at the Tasheel cen­tre at Al Raha Mall to take part in the amnesty, which has been ex­tended

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