Widows and divorcees will no longer find themselves trapped in legal limbo in the event of the death or separation of their husbands under new visa rules.
The UAE Cabinet adopted the resolution on Tuesday as the latest in a series of changes to visa legislation in the Emirates.
The decision grants widows, divorced women and their children living in the UAE the option to apply for a one-year residency visa without the need for a sponsor. It aims to give women the opportunity to adjust their social and economic status before leaving the country.
The move will come into effect by the end of the year and the one-year visa will start from the date of the death or divorce.
Cases of expatriate women left in legal limbo after a sudden death or divorce are a long-standing issue in the Emirates. Tuesday’s decision takes into consideration their humanitarian conditions and facilitates their stay in the country after the loss of the breadwinner, reported state news agency Wam.
The year extension will allow children to complete the school year and the affected women to either seek employment in the UAE or leave the country.
Previously, divorced and widowed women who did not have an employment visa would have to leave the country soon after their divorce or the death of their husband. Shared bank accounts are frozen in the event of a husband's death, often leaving women who do not have an account of their own without money until legal proceedings regarding their husband's will are complete.
The National previously reported on a woman whose residency status in the UAE was in limbo after her Emirati husband died. Umm Hassan, who is not a UAE national but did not wish to divulge her nationality, said she faced deportation when her residency visa expires.
The couple had seven children together, all of whom were granted Emirati citizenship at birth, meaning she was at risk of being separated from her children.
Umm Hassan’s situation is not dissimilar to other women whose husbands have either died or divorced them.
Layla Yousif, a Tanzanian mother of two Emirati girls, told The National that she was unable to send her children to school but was afraid to approach authorities for help as she had no residency visa — having been abandoned by her husband a year before.
The new law will provide security and time for women in such positions to rebuild their lives.
It is the latest in a series of reforms made to the UAE's visa laws this month. On Monday, the Cabinet adopted a resolution that will grant citizens of countries in which there are wars and natural disasters extendable one-year permits — regardless of their condition of residence — from August 1 to October 31, 2018.
Last week, the Cabinet approved resolutions to slacken penalties for those who have overstayed their visa and for anyone who has illegally entered the country.
Leniency in exceptional cases has been granted in the past, however.
In April, Brig Ali Al Zaabi, legal counsel at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, said that in rare, exceptional cases, "a person can be sponsored by their friend until they adjust their situation".
He gave the example of a woman whose husband — who was the sole bread-winner — died leaving her in legal limbo.
The children were still in school so a family friend was authorised to sponsor them instead. That allowed the family to continue to live in the UAE until the woman found a job that would sponsor her or other arrangements.
“This case is not the only one. However, such exemptions are given only in exceptional circumstances,” Brig Al Zaabi said.