ABU DHABI // More than 40,000 people in the emirate were unemployed last year.
The Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre (Scad) revealed in its 2012 statistical yearbook that 15,600 – 11.9 per cent – of nationals in Abu Dhabi were unemployed in the middle of last year. The number that surprised many observers, however, was that 24,700 – 1.5 per cent – of expatriates were also out of work.
Although expatriates cannot live in the country without a work visa or sponsorship, recruitment agencies said many were here illegally. Some used visit visas while seeking employment.
“To have a residency visa to work they must have a sponsor, one that is responsible for them, with a contract,” said Talal Dibajeh, the owner of Al Mansouri recruitment agency. “Otherwise they would be working illegally.”
A Filipino recruiter from Al Ain who deals mainly with Asian workers, J, said: “Some came legally with a contract visa – but I think lots come on a visit visa.
“When here they try to find a job. When they get one they stay.”
The group business development manager at Sawaeed employment, Ezzat Abu Hassan, said new changes in the labour laws made it easier for qualified professionals to move from one job to another without a work ban, meaning a higher number of people were able to stay in the country.
Statistics show a majority of those unemployed held degrees. Among unemployed expatriates, two in five had a university degree or higher. Among nationals, one in four held a university degree or higher.
“It is only the labourers that must go back to their country once their job here is done,” he said.
Mr Abu Hassan said he expected figures to be high, and believed they would be higher still next year.
He said the Arab Spring meant nationals of those countries – including Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya – stayed in the UAE to escape unrest in their home countries. “They don’t mind staying and waiting – chances are better here,” he said.
S S, from Egypt, said he came to the UAE on a visit visa and was now staying with relatives in Dubai.
“It is the land of opportunities here,” he said. “I am an engineering graduate, but right now I don’t mind working as a waiter.”
Mr Abu Hassan said the situation was also bad for many Palestinians.
“They cannot leave the country, there is no political solution for them,” he said. He added that the only solution he could find was for Arabs to be hired rather than employers bringing in professionals from abroad. “They would be less costly, workaholics and put their soul and heart in the job,” he said.
A spokesman from Scad, which carried out the research, said the organisation did not ask if those out of work were in the country legally or illegally. “This is not in our speciality. If we asked, a lot of people would not answer,” he said.
He added that people might be between jobs, leading to their unemployed status.
There is a large number of expatriate graduates in the country living with their families, that could also contribute to the high numbers.
Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin, a Federal National Council member from Ras Al Khaimah, said the figures posed a threat to the country’s security.
“Some residents also tell them to pay them about Dh5,000 to sponsor them for a year while they look for work,” he said, adding a solution was needed.
But Mr Abu Hassan disagreed. “We are talking about qualified people, they are educated and have families,” he said.
J said it was dangerous to look for work illegally – particularly for blue-collar workers and maids. “For them to be safer they should come on an employment visa. Then their embassy would know where they are if there were any problems.Otherwise, there would be no record of them here.”