Visa amnesty is a benevolent gesture towards illegal residents

The grace period offers a chance to get on the right side of the law without penalties

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., August 1, 2018.
Amnesty seekers at the Shahama Police Centre.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Haneen Dajani
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It has been described as "catching the last bus home". The visa amnesty beginning today gives people living illegally in the UAE the opportunity to either return to their home countries or apply for legitimate residency status.

For the thousands of people living on the fringes of society, who have either overstayed their visas or don't have the right documentation and are living in constant fear of being discovered and arrested or deported, it is a life-saving grace period.

It gives them a window in which to take a breath and assess both their status and what they hope to achieve by being here, whether that involves wanting to work legitimately, with all the benefits that entails, or whether they want to go home.

The three-month amnesty is a benevolent and important gesture in a country that relies heavily on its international human capital.

The UAE attracts people from every part of the world, who come to work and save, but the amnesty is a reminder that for some, that journey is over or the aspirations they had might not have materialised.

The reasons might be varied but giving them the option of applying for residency status at one of nine immigration centres or leaving the country smooths the path of a difficult decision.

The amnesty runs until October 1 and could include unwed mothers in prison. Previous amnesties in 2007 and 2013 saw more than 340,000 illegal residents taking advantage of the grace period.

It emphasises the importance of such a policy; it serves no purpose to have them imprisoned for simply overstaying their welcome.

But it is important to remember the amnesty should not be seen as a default mechanism.

Not falling on the wrong side of the law in future will ensure those residents can not only avail themselves of all the services legal dwellers are entitled to but they will also sleep easier at night, knowing they needn’t fear being caught out.