x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Bangladeshis lead rush to leave as UAE amnesty expires

Thousands have taken advantage of the amnesty offer so far, and those who do not have been warned they will have to pay up if discovered.

People lining up outside the Bangladesh embassy the day before the UAE's amnesty for illegals ends. Delores Johnson / The National
People lining up outside the Bangladesh embassy the day before the UAE's amnesty for illegals ends. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Twenty-one thousand Bangladeshis have taken advantage of the amnesty for illegal residents, more than twice as many as other nationalities who had overstayed in the UAE.

As of Friday, eight embassies recorded 37,298 people who had either applied for exit documents, extended the validity of their passports or regularised their stay by paying fines under the amnesty, which ends today.

The missions represent Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The amnesty, launched on December 4, gives those living and working in the UAE a chance to register and avoid fines, prosecution and deportation.

Illegal residents scrambled to get their exit permits at the naturalisation and residency departments’ voluntary departure office in Mussaffah yesterday. Many stood in queues for up to three hours.

Among them was Arthur Smith, 41, from the UK, a construction and infrastructure manager in Abu Dhabi who had overstayed without a visa for 18 months. He had been a UAE resident for eight years.

“I am not happy to return this way under amnesty,” he said. “I was cheated by the company I worked for and they promised to renew the visa, but they did not.”

Badshah Khan, 53, has lived in the Emirates for 22 years, the past five illegally.

“A Kashmiri promised me a new visa with a better salary and gave me a fake visa and disappeared,” he said. “Due to his promises and new visa I left the previous job and since then I have been jobless. I used to earn Dh50 a day working here and there.”

Many consulates worked extended hours over the weekend and yesterday to accommodate late applicants and issue emergency certificates.

The Indian and Ethiopian missions processed applications until late last night so people could leave today. The Sri Lankan mission worked over the weekend to facilitate amnesty seekers.

There was some confusion on the final date of the amnesty, with some people and charity organisations believing yesterday was the final day.

However, a Ministry of Interior circular said the amnesty was to officially end today.

“We had applicants today,” said a spokesman for the Dubai-based Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, a non-profit organisation. “A lot are not leaving because they think there will be an extension.”

But Maj Gen Nasser Al Menhali, assistant under-secretary for naturalisation, residency and ports affairs at the ministry, said there would be no extension.

Indian missions have recorded  low numbers compared with previous amnesties. In 2007 an estimated 50,000 Indians left the country while another 36,000 legalised their status.

Officials at the Ministry of Interior and at diplomatic missions made a last call for illegals to benefit from the amnesty.

After today, fines will be imposed for overstaying visas, breaching of immigration rules and residing in the country illegally. Fines are Dh100 a day for visa offences, and Dh25 a day for residency offences.

Anyone who turns up at immigration to amend his status for overstaying, expired visas or other reasons will be fined, Maj Gen Al Menhali warned.

However, he reassured those who fear taking advantage of the amnesty would make them ineligible to return to the UAE. “They can come any number of times on new legal visas to the Emirates,” he said. “There is no ban.”