UAE work visa amnesty highlights unethical job agents

Embassies of South-East Asian countries offer latest advice to those travelling to UAE for work

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 08 AUGUST 2018. Amnesty applicants at the Visa Amnesty Application Center in Al Awir as part of the three month visa amnesty period granted by the Dubai Government. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nawal Alramahi. Section: National.
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Unscrupulous employment agents are driving up the numbers of foreign nationals falling foul of UAE visa regulations, the Indian ambassador said.

The lure of often fictional well-paid jobs promised to manual workers by agents from some South-East Asian countries can lead to individuals being exploited once here, he said.

As the first cohort of workers whose visas have expired prepare to be flown back home with consular help, embassies in the UAE are reminding those travelling here of the potential pitfalls of working without a visa.

So far, more than 10,000 people have sought help to restore their legal status in the country, with more expected between now and the end of the amnesty on October 31.

“We recognise when it comes to women domestic workers, there’s a demand problem,” said Navdeep Singh Suri, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE.

"But there's also a problem in India because of unscrupulous recruitment agents making all sorts of promises to workers.

“When they come overseas they feel disappointed at the gap between promise and reality.

"The embassy has approached state governments in regions where people may be at a high risk of coming to the UAE in conditions under which they could fall through the system."

Official figures show that there are about 3.1 million Indians living in the UAE. Despite the high number, however, only 1,300 have so far come forward to seek assistance in Dubai under the amnesty scheme.

Embassy officials say this is largely because of an ongoing outreach programme where regular work with community groups and prison visits has identified domestic workers as a high-risk group.

The Indian embassy said it has maintained parallel talks with UAE authorities to close loopholes that allow tourist visits to be converted to employment visas.

"If you were to do a breakdown of the data of those we have repatriated to India using Indian community welfare funds over the past year and a half, for example, you'd find a disproportionately large number of women domestic workers in that category," Mr Singh Suri said.

Sri Lanka missions at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate general in Dubai are assisting their nationals who wish to use the amnesty for visa overstays and illegal residencies.

Officials are regularly visiting the amnesty camps for Sri Lankan nationals seeking assistance for legalising their stay, or to return home.

The embassy in Abu Dhabi is receiving about 50 people a day seeking help with the amnesty provisions, with more asking for help in Dubai.

More than 100,000 Sri Lankans live and work in UAE, with a similar number visiting for job hunting, family visits, business and tourism.

“The Sri Lankan government treats illegal employment as a serious offence and those who abuse the visa regimes of various countries will be subjected to the law of the country,” said Sabarullah Khan, charge d’ affaires at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Abu Dhabi. “The Sri Lanka missions in the UAE advise those who are visiting for job seeking not to violate their visa regulations. Working while on a tourist visa and overstaying a visa period are punishable offences.”


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Indonesia is another country with domestic workers in the UAE, although figures are not available.

The majority seeking help in Dubai are from the Philippines, with consul general Paul Cortes playing a big role with regular briefings on how nationals can find help.

Those choosing to fly home with travel expenses paid for by the Philippine government are leaving today.

Other countries from the South-East Asia region reported little demand from their nationals.

Speaking at an event to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Dubai, a collective promoting economic co-operation, peace and regional stability, Dato’ Yubazlan Yusof, consul general of Malaysia, said most nationals were skilled workers.

“We have between 6,000 and 7,000 Malaysians working in the UAE, and they are mostly professionals. So far we have had very few problems,” he said.

“There has only been one request from a Malaysian national, but they have some other issues to resolve first before we can get involved.

“Malaysians can’t come to the UAE on a tourist visa and then apply for a resident’s visa, so they are less likely to get into difficulty.”

Unnop Buranasate, consul general of Thailand, said: "Thai people cannot switch from a tourist visa to a working visa, it is not easy and there are only about 8,000 Thais in the UAE.

“We have not had to deal with any issues yet.”