The UAE is considering introducing quotas or employment clauses for workers from countries that have refused to repatriate their citizens during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation told state news agency Wam that it may suspend agreements with countries that have not responded to repatriation requests from expats who have lost their jobs or were asked to take leave by their employers.
"Among the options being studied is ceasing labour agreements between the ministry and authorities in the non-co-operative countries, as well as setting strict restrictions on recruitment of workers from these countries, including application of a quota system," an official said.
The official did not say which countries, but the statement came after UAE Ambassador to India Dr Ahmed Al Banna said that the UAE had offered to repatriate citizens after they tested negative for Covid-19.
Dr Al Banna said the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation told embassies that it would help repatriate citizens after flights were grounded around the world.
Last week, Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre – a welfare group in Dubai – filed a high court petition urging the Indian government to permit charter flights to bring thousands of citizens home from the UAE.
India is under lockdown until April 14, and scheduled international commercial flights have been halted. Many countries have put similar anti-coronavirus measures in place.
V Muraleedharan, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, said repatriation of citizens would be considered from May and priority would be given to the elderly, pregnant women and those in urgent need of medical treatment.
Haris Beeran, a lawyer representing the petitioners in Dubai, said an estimated 10,000 people from India’s southern Kerala state wanted to return home.
"Many workers no longer have jobs [and] some people are on visit visas that have expired," he told The National.
"They don’t have any means to live in the UAE and would rather return to their family at this time.”
The petition specified categories of Indian citizens who have approached the organisation for help, including infirm elderly parents of UAE residents.
The application called on India’s federal government and the Civil Aviation Ministry to permit repatriation flights as the country’s national carrier Air India was allowed to fly German, British and Canadian citizens out during the lockdown.
“Many Indians are running out of money and facing shortages of food,” the petition said.
Indian charity groups along with volunteers, diplomats and local and federal authorities have organised food drives across the UAE to reach workers and families left with no salaries after shops and malls closed.
At least 20 Indian travellers were believed to have been stranded at Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports after New Delhi shut down on March 22.
More than 20,000 Pakistanis in the UAE were also awaiting repatriation.
Officials said a lack of quarantine facilities in the South Asian nation was causing the delay.
Last week, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the Pakistan consulate in Dubai to demand answers.
Authorities in Islamabad said they were working hard to address the problem and hoped to confirm the start of flights soon.
“[We have] received and processed the registration of Pakistani nationals for repatriation from the UAE,” the consulate general said in a statement on Saturday.
“We are waiting permission from our government, which is expected soon."