Visa amnesty deadline deferred to December 1
▶ Residents with expired documents renew papers to take advantage of six-month window
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.
People line up at the Tasheel centre at Al Raha Mall to take part in the amnesty, which has been extended