Thousands of residents with expired documentation have applied for short-term passports since the start of the UAE visa amnesty, in a bid to take advantage of a six-month window to find work and extend their stay in the country.
Almost 1,800 short validity passports have been issued by the Indian embassy and consulate in Dubai and Abu Dhabi since the start of the amnesty programme in August.
Jobseekers who have overstayed their visa can obtain a six-month self-sponsored temporary visa, as per the amnesty scheme that has now been extended until December 1.
Those on expired visas were given the grace period to settle their status or leave the UAE voluntarily without legal consequences or fines.
“A lot of people on expired passports have renewed their passport because of the six-month window for them to find a job,” said Indian ambassador to the UAE, Navdeep Suri.
A standard Indian passport lasts for 10 years, while short validity passports are usually for one or two years and can be issued immediately.
Another 3,868 emergency certificates — a one-way ticket out of the country issued to people who have lost their passports or whose documents have been stolen or damaged — have been handed out by the Indian embassy during the amnesty period.
The Indian ambassador said many people in desperate situations have applied for emergency certificates after enduring tough experiences.
“When we talk to people who show up asking for an emergency certificate, all they want is to go back home, you can see their desperation,” said Mr Suri.
“Some have been cheated by agents on the Indian side or cheated by employers on this side. This happens particularly in the unskilled and semi-skilled category with the blue collar workers.
“The emergency certificate is strictly a one-way travel document. For those who have taken emergency certificates back home, they cannot get a visa issued on this.”
Officials in the Emirates and overseas have cautioned people to obtain work visas and not tourist visas when they seek work in the UAE.
Authorities have warned against paying unscrupulous agents and advised registering with authorised recruitment companies that specify the wages they will earn and the work they will undertake.
The Indian Community Welfare Fund has paid for the airfare of about 250 Indians since August.
Volunteers and registered charities from many countries have stepped forward to pay for the air tickets of poor workers unable to pay to get home.
India and Sri Lanka are countries from which among the largest number of blue collar workers arrive in the UAE for employment.
The Sri Lanka consulate said 504 Sri Lankans have secured exit passes to leave the country during the amnesty.
Among Sri Lankans too, high numbers applied for new passport in a bid to remain in the UAE.
“There has been a huge increase in new passport applications,” said Chathura Weerasekera, head of the chancery at the Sri Lankan consulate.
“During the period of August to October, we have received an average of 75 to 125 passport applications per week.
“When we analysed the figures, we found a 150 per cent increase in new passport applications in three months.
“The amnesty was a commendable step taken by the government. People really want to avail that opportunity and get their visa legalised to stay in the country. It is like a second home for Sri Lankans.”
He said there was also an increase in the number of people coming forward to secure their passports that had been handed over to the consulate by UAE immigration authorities.
When a sponsor lodges a complaint and files an absconding case against an employee, who quits his job, the passports are handed over to the immigration department or the police.
These passports were handed by UAE authorities to consulates and embassies during the amnesty period for distribution so different nationalities could finalise their status.
“When the amnesty process began, people started coming to the consulate to ask about their passports and the procedure,” said Mr Weerasekera.
“The first thing we did was to check if the passport was available in the system. We received 2,655 passports from immigration for all the Emirates and from this, after we verified the identity of the persons, we issued 629 passports to people.”
People against whom absconding reports were filed could also apply for amnesty and leave the UAE without a ban.