x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Conditions deteriorate for workers stranded without visas in Oman

The Philippines' ambassador says that only the UAE can decide who is entitled to visas.

A woman calls her family near a hotel in the Oman border town of Buraimi.
A woman calls her family near a hotel in the Oman border town of Buraimi.

ABU DHABI // As thousands of Filipinos remained stranded in neighbouring countries, the Philippines' ambassador stressed yesterday that only the UAE could decide who was entitled to visas and that its decisions should be respected. But Libran Cabactulan, while acknowledging the authority of immigration authorities, told of worsening conditions for those waiting for visas in such locations as Buraimi, Oman. He is hoping to discuss the crisis with government officials in the coming days. Among other things, Mr Cabactulan wants to know whether the clients of some travel agencies have been treated more favourably than others. The Philippines Embassy is arranging a meeting for Mr Cabactulan with Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, or the undersecretary. The ambassador noted that although a few of the stranded workers were based in Abu Dhabi, most were from Dubai, so he wanted to involve the federal government. He said other diplomats would take up the matter with Dubai officials. Some stranded workers have been granted new visit visas in the past few days. But thousands are still unable to re-enter the UAE because of a recently enacted law prohibiting their immediate return after brief trips, known as visa runs, to neighbouring countries. "We would like to also know if a form of ranking among travel agencies exists," Mr Cabactulan said. "There are agencies which experience fast processing of visas, while others take a much longer time. Are there travel agencies of lower standing, and also banned agencies which are into subcontracting?" The ambassador said he asked the travel agencies that handle visa applications to provide a list of urgent cases. "We have humanitarian cases, which include a grandmother being stuck in Buraimi and that of a mother whose visa application was rejected while her child's visa was approved." Mr Cabactulan also asked the agencies to tell their clients it would take at least a month before visa applications were processed. "I've asked them to extend assistance to stranded Filipinos by providing food, negotiating room rates with hotels in Oman and Iran, and, in critical situations, repatriating Filipinos who really need to return to the Philippines," he said. Mr Cabactulan said the representatives of travel agencies he met last Sunday had not yet told him how many Filipinos left Oman and Iran during the Eid holidays. "We would have a clear picture this Sunday. By that time, we can prepare for our meetings with the UAE authorities." Immigration officials have repeatedly warned that people from all but 33 exempt nations can no longer expect to renew their visas on quick runs, but thousands continue to overwhelm hotels in border towns. rruiz@thenational.ae