Hundreds of parents in the UAE are appealing for their children, studying at universities abroad, to be brought back to the Emirates after they became stuck outside the country when borders closed.
A group of about 450 parents are making an appeal to authorities that they might make an exception for their children, who no longer have valid UAE residency visas, to be granted permission to return to the country and be reunited with their families.
This week, authorities said people stuck abroad who have valid residency visas would be allowed to fly back to the UAE from June 1. They called on those eager to return to submit a new application on the website for the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.
Parents are hoping that their children, who are undergraduate students enrolled in universities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and had previously been UAE residents, will be allowed to return as well.
Namita Saifi, an Indian resident living in Dubai, said one of her two children, aged 22, is stuck in Toronto, Canada.
"My child cannot return because authorities have specifically said only those who have visas can return.”
Ms Saifi is a member of a few groups on social media containing more than 450 parents of teenagers and young adults and are working to bring their children to the UAE.
“My child is dependent on me and he is alone in Canada. Online courses have been announced for the next term and students are depressed as they are away from family.”
Campuses across the US, UK and Europe shut down in mid-March and students were asked to vacate dormitories to prevent the spread of Covid-19. This meant having to suddenly find new accommodation at great personal cost.
At the time, thousands of international students with valid UAE residency visas left courses midsemester and flew back to the Emirates on the advice of the Ministry of Education and National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority.
But many children of expatriates, who were no longer sponsored by their parents and did not qualify for visa-on-arrival, were unable to return.
“If a special category can be created to help parents who have children stuck abroad without UAE visas, we can be heard on a case-by-case basis and would have someone to reach out to,” said Ms Saifi.
"Our children have spent their entire life with family here in the UAE. Many visas have expired as late as last year and the children are now currently stuck abroad where they had gone for further studies.
"The situation for them is getting really tough both physically and mentally.”
Daughters can be sponsored by their parent until she is married while sons can only be sponsored until the age of 18 – unless he is studying in the UAE or abroad. In this case, he can be sponsored on a yearly basis until he turns 21. For his visa to stay valid, he has to enter the UAE at least once every six months.
Wasif Ahmed, a 50-year-old Indian parent in Abu Dhabi, is worried for the safety of his son, 22, who is stranded in the US, where coronavirus cases are rising.
"Our children are dependent on us and visit us twice a year but rely on visit visas,” said Mr Ahmed, a media professional whose son studies in Chicago but was raised in the UAE.
"Most of the universities and college accommodation have closed and our children are being asked to vacate the facilities.
"We are requesting that some kind of travel permit be issued or a separate page be set up where parents can register their children.”
Anya Startseva, a British mother-of-four, has been apart from her son since March, when the UAE closed its borders to prevent the spread of the virus.
She has 19-year-old twins who are studying in the UK. Her son has been in boarding school for two years and does not have a residency visa.
"While my daughter, Hannah, who was in London managed to make it back, my son is stuck there," she said.
"His friend from boarding school stepped up and we have been very fortunate as he is staying with his friend.”
She is hoping parents in her position will have their situations considered separately.
"We hope for the government’s understanding of our plight.”