As the UAE's three-month visa amnesty draws to an end, things have been surprisingly calm at Abu Dhabi's Al Raha Mall Tasheel branch.
Instead of the hundreds of applicants that were seen flocking to the centre over the past two months, there were dozens. The queues looked shorter and applicants were having their requests processed faster.
Rowena Fernandez, 46, a babysitter from the Philippines, said on Monday that she had found it much easier to get her application through compared to three months ago, when the amnesty began.
“Today I came back for the first time since then. I have only been waiting for 20 minutes and it is almost my turn," she said.
Ms Fernandez left employment with her sponsor eight months after arriving to the country seven years ago because they were paying her less than the salary amount given in her contract.
“At first, I wanted to go back to the Philippines, but officials said I had to pay Dh10,000 as a fine and I had already paid ₱10,000 (DH685) in the Philippines to come here.”
Instead, she remained in the country illegally and began doing part time jobs.
“I want to get a six-month visa from the amnesty so I can find a new sponsor and fix my situation,” she said.
Since the UAE government introduced a grace period for those who had overstayed their visa on August 1 this year, applicants have been visiting the Ministry of Labour’s Tasheel centres to process their requests.
Applicants can apply for an exit pass, avoiding paying the fines of Dh30 for each day they have overstayed, or for a six-month visa.
The visa allows people to stay in the country until they can find a new job or sponsor. For Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis, the visa is valid for one year because they are from war-torn countries.
Catherine Busbus, 34, a nanny from the Philippines, visited the centre for the first time on Monday to apply for the six-month visa.
“I just arrived, sat down for five minutes and I've finished. I found out that my former sponsor only cancelled my visa yesterday, so I am not included in the amnesty.”
She thought her visa had been cancelled on April 8 after her sponsor sent her back to a recruitment agency, which she later left to find a job on her own.
“I thought I was a violator, but turns out I am not yet."
The amnesty only applies to those whose visa ended before August 1 and is due to come to a close at the end of this month.
“There has been a lot of co-operation between us and immigration to process people’s requests,” said Khalid Al Maazmi, assistant deputy general director of the Tasheel branch.
He said that this branch alone had dealt with 5,000 applications.
“We have reached a point where it takes 24 hours, maximum, to resolve a pending case.”
“We have a few applications that are still pending because they need to renew their passports, and it takes embassies about a month or two to do so."
While the centre will continue to receive applications until Wednesday, Mr Al Maazmi said most of the customers visiting the centre this week are there to follow up on earlier requests or to pick up a final stamp or document.
Ahmad Al Saeedi, 32, a marble setter from Egypt, was one of the last-minute applicants.
“I went yesterday to the amnesty centre in Shahama and they told me to come here to apply for the six-month visa. I came to catch the amnesty before it ends,” he said.
He was forced to overstay his visa because the first company that recruited him did not go through with the necessary sponsorship procedures.
“I came on a three-month visit visa and the first company kept saying they would issue a residency for me, but they never did.”
“Now I have found a new employer and contract, so once I receive the six-month visa they will sponsor me,” he said.
Get stories like this on in your inbox each morning. Sign up for our daily newsletter here