Teachers complain of visa chaos as 1,000 arrive to start work at once

Education staff hired to help implement Abu Dhabi schools overhaul teaching say visa delays have left them unable to rent apartments or even obtain phones.

ABU DHABI // For the throng of new teachers who have landed in Abu Dhabi as part of an innovative education initiative in the emirate, the biggest hurdle may prove to be settling in. Just days after the start of the new school year and more than a month since some 940 teachers arrived here for an overhaul of the emirate's schools, many have begun complaining of inefficient management and long delays in visa processing that have left some without their passports for more than five weeks.

The teachers say a lack of communication from their new employer, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), has only frustrated matters further. The recruitment drive is part of a multimillion-dirham initiative aimed at transforming education with the New School Model teaching strategy. Under the system, being phased in over the next six years, pupils will be taught by both a native English speaker and an Arabic speaker. Many of the teachers, who are mostly from Canada, the UK, the US and Australia, began moving to the UAE in August and were put up in hotels such as the Intercontinental and the Beach Rotana as they searched for permanent housing. But while the process of moving to the emirate is traditionally onerous and lengthy, the sheer number of teachers who have arrived simultaneously, coupled with the typical slowdown during Ramadan, have left many without passports and therefore unable to rent apartments, get driving licences and even get post-paid telephone lines just as the real business of teaching is to commence. "I am so disappointed and frustrated. You need your passport for so much here: getting a mobile phone, an ID card, hiring a car," said one teacher, who asked not to be named. "[We] were given no contact information from Adec where questions could be answered and where personal assistance with special needs could be given." The teacher said he had reached the point of considering returning home to the US once his passport was returned. But education chiefs rejected the criticism. "There has been no delay," said Salem Al Sayari, the head of support services at Adec. "It is normal in this country for it to take some time to process visas and staff were warned it would take four to five weeks. "We have kept the new arrivals informed with a weekly e-mail of what is happening. "We gave them an HR induction course, a cultural awareness course and a tour of the city to help them get themselves orientated." He added that Adec has continued to pay for hotel stays. However, one teacher said: "Unable to get driving licences, national ID cards or cars, because their passports and visas have not been returned, many teachers are spending their own money for taxis to drive great distances to their schools," one teacher said. Another teacher, also from the US and who also asked not to be identified, said accommodation she had been shown was unsuitable as it was far from her school and old. Adec counters that the vast majority of teachers had not complained about their arrival treatment and many had already received their visas. Adec added that teachers were welcome to visit the Adec headquarters to discuss problems with support staff. A meeting was due to be held in Al Ain tonight for staff based there, and another tomorrow for Abu Dhabi staff. chamilton@thenational.ae