x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Desperate UAE dad hopes for amnesty extension

As the deadline for visa reprieve nears, this father's story is one of many that charity group, Valley of Love, hears.

DUBAI // A Sharjah businessman is hoping authorities will extend the visa amnesty deadline beyond February 4 so his teenage daughter can complete her high school examinations in March.

"My daughter is in the top five in school and her Grade 10 board exams start in March, so we will be grateful if we are allowed to stay until March end," said JC, 49, who did not want to be identified.

In November last year, the Department of Naturalisation, Residency and Port Affairs said illegal residents who had overstayed visas or residency permits could volunteer to leave in the two months starting December 4 and face no prosecution or penalties.

The time since the collapse of his business in 2010 has been extremely difficult for the family.

JC's wife was jailed for 14 months over unpaid credit card bills totalling Dh250,000, because he could not repay company loans taken out in her name. She was released in July 2011.

Now his daughter cannot take the exams in India as it is too late to register for a roll number with a new school, and he is hoping for a change in fortunes.

The proud father says his daughter has never allowed their financial troubles to affect her academic performance.

The same is true for his son, who was among the top-performing Grade 12 students in 2011 and was awarded a gold medal by his school.

"It was a terrible time but we have stayed together as a family," their father said. "My children are excellent students and I wish they don't suffer any more for my mistakes.

"We never hid anything from our children and God gave us the strength to get through this."

JC also owes Dh145,000 to moneylenders who have his passport.

He worked at odd jobs trying to pay back loans but after his savings ran out, the family moved in with friends in a Sharjah flat and survive on money donated by charitable people.

The amnesty offers a way to return to India without paying fines that have piled up since his visa expired in April 2010 - penalties of Dh100 a day for visa and Dh25 a day for residency offences.

"It's an honourable exit. We can find jobs in India and pay back what we owe people," the businessman said.

"I know now that I should have done business within my means instead of on borrowed money. This [amnesty] gives me a second chance to work for my family."

He hopes his appeal will reach authorities through the Valley of Love, a non-profit organisation that co-ordinates with government agencies and consulates.

As the amnesty deadline nears, the organisation has been flooded with more than 150 phone calls and emails from illegal Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Russian residents.

CP Mathew, founder of the organisation, said cases followed a pattern with parents jailed for credit card defaults, children yanked from school for overdue fees and passports held by employers or moneylenders.

"These are middle-class families where children suffer because of loans their parents cannot repay," Mr Mathew said.

"Many stay on hoping to get businesses running or legalise their status."

Some cases are referred to him before residents become illegal.

CB lost his job in the travel industry in 2010 but his visa is valid until June this year.

He got a job in November but was told he could not change his visa until he repayed Dh20,000 of credit card bills. Now CB has a week before his new employers release the job.

"I'm desperate. I've gathered Dh5,000 from friends but I need more or I will lose the job," he said.

"I've assured people that I will pay it all back but I've already taken money from friends to survive, to eat. We defer school payments. We pay rent one month, the next month we pay fees. I'm mentally so tense.

"But I've survived two years and I tell myself that I will get through this."

 

rtalwar@thenational.ae