ABU DHABI // Emirati passports are being used to defraud the residency system by people applying for free work visas for staff and then selling them to desperate illegal immigrants. Anyone with an Emirati passport is entitled to apply for visas for their own workers or housemaids. They pay nothing for them, but the visas can be sold on the black market for between Dh5,000 (US$1,360) and Dh10,000.
Until last year, the worst anyone could expect if caught was a Dh10,000 fine, but new penalties have increased the stakes and reduced the number of offences, officials say. Now, offenders can be jailed and fined up to Dh70,000. "Now there is awareness and fear," said Brig Gen Nasser al Minhali, the head of the Abu Dhabi Naturalisation and Residence Directorate. The rules demand that Emiratis apply in person for the visas, but in some cases officials have been turning a blind eye and supplying them to people who have obtained Emirati passports illegally.
Brig Gen Minhali gave the example of a Bengali who was working for an Emirati and had kept a copy of his employer's passport. A woman working at the passport office issued a large number of visas for Bengali maids, ostensibly for the Emirati, who knew nothing about it. Both wrongdoers confessed their part in the operation and were jailed. There are strict rules about the number of visas to which Emiratis are entitled. A married man with one wife is allowed one maid. If the couple have a child, the family is also entitled to a nanny. If the man has two wives, between them they can have two maids and two nannies.
If there are four children, or the man owns his own house, he can add a cook to his domestic workforce; if he owns two cars, he can employ a driver, and land ownership justifies one or more gardeners. Single men get nothing. Ana, a Sri Lankan housemaid who has been living in the UAE for five years, said she paid Dh5,500 to an Emirati woman for her visa every two years. "There is no choice," she said. "You have to have a sponsor, otherwise you cannot get a visa."
She had been introduced to her sponsor by her uncle, who had found the Emirati through a friend. Ana's husband left his job as an office boy because it paid poorly and is now unemployed. Following a trip home, he returned on a visit visa and is looking for work, but the sponsor is asking Dh11,500 for a visa, which the couple cannot afford. Jan, a taxi driver from Pakistan, pays Dh9,000 for his visa, which has to be renewed every two years. He has also paid the same amount to a sponsor for a friend from Pakistan who had been promised a job. However, the sponsor is now refusing to give the man any work.
Jan says this is a common practice. Unscrupulous sponsors promise work in exchange for an expensive visa, but later say the job has fallen through. Following a shake-up of the rules, which was announced last month and will come into force on Aug 1, four new categories of visa have been introduced, which Brig Gen Minhali says will help to cut down further on visa fraud. It is hoped that the introduction of study, medical, exhibition and conference visas, and another for guests of the Government, will cut down on the number of people in the country illegally.