Visa company collapse is a salutary lesson

Consumers must be protected, but they must also understand what they are paying for

Many expatriates in the UAE are seeking visas to move on.  (Delores Johnson/ The National)
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Many of the expatriates in the UAE are in transit, looking for the next place to go. This may be because of troubles in their home country, the prospect of losing their jobs or reaching retirement age, or simply because they seek new scenery and fresh opportunities. This helps explain the demand for people offering immigration services. And where there is a demand, there will be some people trying to take advantage.

This accusation has been made against Global Visas Dubai, which closed its doors without notice last month, leaving 25 staff members out of work and owed wages. It was run by Liam Clifford, who reportedly has a history of debt-ridden companies dealing in visa services and was once barred from holding a company directorship in the UK.

One client told The National that Global Visas had charged her more than Dh15,000 to help her family of five migrate to Canada. However, a spokeswoman for the Citizenship and Immigration Canada organisation said it was an offence under Canadian law for a private company to charge for immigration services or to guarantee that somebody would get a visa.

The veracity of the accusation that Global Visas Dubai was taking money under false pretences remains to be determined, but this case raises general questions about the vetting of people who set up businesses in the UAE. Should the process be tighter, including background checks for aspiring company directors? Should there be public awareness campaigns about the potential pitfalls of immigration services? The key has to be stopping people falling prey to unscrupulous operators.

This is a reputational issue for the UAE, which can’t afford to be seen as a place where companies operate in the shadows and close without warning, leaving staff and customers out of pocket. In another recent case, a hotel manager was officially reprimanded for adding items to the bill of some visiting Saudis. That the authorities acted sends a positive message that consumers will be protected.

At the same time, we should also all pay heed to the adage of “buyer beware”. It’s up to us to ascertain exactly what we are paying for. When seeking visa services, for example, an appropriate first step would be to contact the relevant embassy. It helps nobody for ordinary people to be swindled out of their money – least of all the legitimate business owners of the UAE.