Bankrupt businessman rebuilds life in UAE after sending family home under visa amnesty
Visa amnesty programme helps owners of failed businesses start afresh by sending their undocumented family members home
The UAE’s visa amnesty programme has given owners of struggling businesses a second chance to work their way out of debt by being able to send their families with expired documents home.
Men who were sponsoring their wives and children when their businesses folded said the amnesty programme, which ends later this month, gave them a reprieve while they start over and pay back outstanding loans without the fear of accruing visa overstay fines.
Murtadha, who declined to give his full name, said he fought off suicidal thoughts to pull his family from the brink of ruin after his business partner fled the UAE in 2012 with Dh3.2 million from the company bank account.
Murtadha sold his car, business, factory machinery and wife’s jewellery to pay bank loans and suppliers.
But in 2014, a contractor allegedly withheld his payments and cashed two security cheques for Dh200,000 and Dh42,000.
When the cheques bounced, Murtadha was summoned by police in Dubai and Sharjah. He has been arrested twice over the past four years and released after paying fines and explaining his financial situation.
Despite his hardships, Murtadha is thankful for the second chance.
“The amnesty is the fire that has burnt all the bad things that happened in the past. When I heard about the amnesty announcement, I felt like I was flying in the sky,” said Murtadha, 39, who moved from Pakistan to Dubai in 2002.
“I know many families who breathed a sigh of relief because of the amnesty, otherwise they would have thought of taking their own lives and the lives of their family. They thought there was no other option.”
When the passport of a family’s sole breadwinner is held by police, the visas of dependent relatives cannot be renewed.
Murtadha was able to continue working because his visa expires next year but his Indian wife, who suffers from bipolar disorder, could not be treated without residency documents.
Their 12-year-old son has not attended school for the past four years because he did not have a valid Emirates ID and their four-year-old daughter has not had legal papers since birth.
After obtaining travel documents to leave the UAE, under the amnesty, Murtadha’s son now lives with his father in Pakistan and his wife and daughter are with her family in India.
“My children are my lifeline but I had to let them go. I want to rebuild my business and get my family back,” he said.
From owning a flourishing company where he handled interior work for flats in Burj Khalifa, shops and restaurants in Dubai Mall, and Deerfield in Abu Dhabi, Murtadha now works as a consultant.
He made drastic changes to rein in expenses, moving out of a villa with a swimming pool to sharing a flat with another family.
“People like me who sent their family home have another opportunity. We needed this break. Living for five or 10 years without proper papers created tension and guilt. The amnesty gives us a chance to do something good for our family. It is an opportunity for people like me to progress and develop.”
He knows of at least two other men who also sent their families home during the amnesty period.
Support from the community and volunteer workers helped him work through the past six years of financial trouble.
Murtadha no longer issues post-dated cheques, only accepting to work with cash on hand.
“Never again will I give a post-dated cheque, only a current cheque. This has taught people what can happen when a cheque bounces even when you are serious about making payments. But the government has also shown us that it is here to support us. They gave us a solution to become legalised,” he said.
Post-dated cheques are commonly used in the UAE as a guarantee for business transactions from construction deals to apartment rentals.
The cases filed against Murtadha came before a Dubai Court directive in December last year to issue fines instead of jail time to help those in debt resolve minor bounced-cheque cases.
Embassies and consulates have been working with community organisations since the amnesty began in August to reach residents who have overstayed their visas.
Girish Pant, a volunteer social worker who works with people who overstayed their visa, said Murtadha’s story is similar to that of many fathers who have remained in the UAE to resolve court cases.
“There are still some people stuck because they have not paid their credit card bills or not paid back banks. The amnesty is humane because it gives them a chance,” Mr Pant said.
“There are some families who have lived here for more than 20 years without a visa and their children have never been to school.”
Murtadha still has debts to pay and a case to settle before his passport is returned by the police but he has learnt a hard lesson in the meantime.
“If you lived in a villa, move to a small apartment. There is a difference between need and want,” he said.
“Dubai is a place of opportunity, you have to work really hard and understand how to get that opportunity.”
Updated: December 17, 2018 02:17 PM