In old family photos, Arsalan and Zoya are like any children in the UAE playing in a park or posing in a cafe.
But unlike others, the teenager and his younger sister cannot attend school and have not been to a doctor for more than two years. Their parents lost their jobs, leaving them without valid documents.
They have no medical insurance, leaving Arsalan, 16, who is severely asthmatic, at serious risk.
The children could not be enrolled in a school without Emirates identity cards, which lapsed after their parents, Nishat and Ahmed Ansari, were let go by construction companies.
The recent Cabinet decision to reform visa regulations has brought relief to families who have overstayed, giving them three months from August to rectify their illegal status and apply for a six-month permit to find another job.
But this family’s case is complicated because they must first pay a court fine for a classroom scuffle involving their son.
Arsalan and six classmates were sued by the parents of a boy whose finger was injured in the incident four years ago. The court ordered each of the boys involved to pay Dh30,000 to the family of the injured pupil.
Ms Ansari, who has lived in the UAE for 20 years, and her husband were already struggling with credit card debt and have yet to pay the fine. Until the fee is settled, the case remains against them.
“We have no money,” she said. “But if my children are allowed to travel to India and live with my family, and the fine is deferred and transferred to us until we get jobs and get the money together, it will give us some relief.
“We are not going anywhere. We cannot leave here until we clear our loans. We will be here to face our penalties but I don’t want my children to suffer any more. I want them to start their lives again.
“My son was in Grade 10 and daughter in Grade 1 when we lost our jobs.”
After the new visa legislation, lawyers and volunteer workers said there had been more inquiries from parents entangled in unpaid loan cases asking if they could send their children to relatives in their home country to have access to education and medical care.
More families are expected to come forward after visa overstay penalties and a previously mandatory “no entry” stamp on offenders’ passports were waived for those who voluntarily come forward.
Ms Ansari has appealed to the court to take on her son’s fine.
“I vow that I will pay my son’s Dh30,000 penalty however long it takes,” she said. “All I want is for my children to go to India to live with my sister. My son needs regular check-ups because of asthma.
“We cannot take him to a government hospital without an identity card and private hospitals are expensive. I borrow money for his medicine and he is living off pharmacy medication.”
Vipul, the Indian consul general, said the consulate was ready to assist the children returning to India but legal proceedings regarding court cases would have to be completed.
The family has been living with Ms Ansari’s sister for more than a year after being evicted from their home. Like others who overstay without cancelling their visa, Ms Ansari had a case of absconding brought by her employer
The case acts as a deterent to companies that might have taken a chance on employing her.
“Even if a company wants to hire me, they will stay clear because of my legal case,” she said. “It is the same for my husband.
“No one wants liabilities from day one, which company wants to get into a mess? So we lose the opportunity of getting a job anywhere.”
They rely on relatives for expenses and the past few years have taken their toll on the children. The ban on re-entry made Ms Ansari hesitate to speak up, but she now hopes for help from the UAE community to process the children’s departure.
“The kids are embarrassed to meet their old friends,” she said. “They hate my husband and me for putting them in this situation. They feel we are responsible. And they are right. We have taken away their childhood and their right to be happy, to go to school.
“The past two years have affected us mentally, financially and physically. I don’t blame anybody, but ourselves for our situation. I’m happy about the government announcement about changing visa status.
“If my children are able to go to India, that would be the beginning for us. I stay awake at night hoping for a miracle. Nothing else will work.”