x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Expats on visa run stranded

Immigration official says thousands of expatriates who are unable to return to the UAE were misled by travel companies.

ABU DHABI // Thousands of expatriates on visa runs who are unable to return to the UAE were misled by travel companies, an immigration official said today. Previously people whose visit visas had expired had been able to take short trips to neighbouring countries such as Oman and Iran to renew their visit visas. A new law made the practice impermissible for many nationalities. "The law is clear. Those who wish to apply for a new visit visa after their visa expires must return to their home country and stay there for one month before being issued another visa," said Brig Gen Nasser al Minhali, acting director general of the Federal Naturalisation and Residency Department. "Tourist companies are misleading people by telling them that they can renew the visas once they expire," he said. The Government "will blacklist the erring companies, stop issuing visas to their clients and even order their closure for repeated violations of UAE immigration laws". Libran Cabactulan, the Philippines' ambassador to the UAE, said thousands of his compatriots were caught unawares by the new law and are stranded in Oman and Iran. Mr Cabactulan said his embassy was telling Filipinos seeking to return to the UAE to wait for their visas in the Philippines. "Under the new UAE visa regulations, conversions from a visit visa to an employment visa may take at least one month to process," he said. "Obtaining a new visit visa may also take several weeks due to the backlog of pending applications." Mr Cabactulan said he was urging Filipinos "not to fall prey to entities or facilitators who advise people to exit to neighbouring countries for a few days while waiting for their re-entry into the country". "I am not categorically referring to travel agencies, but to individuals who do not properly advise our nationals and fool them in the process," he said. Mr Cabactulan said he met representatives of several travel agencies in Dubai today to discuss the problem. "It is the right of the UAE Government, for security reasons, to determine who should be allowed to enter the country as visitors," he said "It is one way of safeguarding the integrity of the country." Adel Tamano, spokesman for Philippines' Genuine Opposition political party, said during a visit to Dubai last week that 3,500 Filipinos were stranded in Iran and 2,700 were in Oman. Mr Tamano said the situation had become "a humanitarian crisis" as some of the people did not have enough money to eat properly. It is understood that some of the Filipinos stranded in the Omani border town of Buraimi are sleeping 24 people in a room in a hostel. The new visa rules, which took effect on July 29, apply to people from such countries as the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Russia. There are two types of visit visas. Short-term visas issued for one month are non-renewable and cost Dh500. Long-term visas, issued for three months, are also non-renewable and cost Dh1,000. Brig Minhali made it clear that the Government would not grant visit visas to those who reapply for one immediately after leaving. "Those whose visit visas have expired cannot get a new visit visa 10 days after leaving the country. They have to stay in their country for a month," he said. rruiz@thenational.ae