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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Extension of UAE visa amnesty deadline is keeping families together

Philippine Government has helped 2,417 return home by funding travel costs under visa amnesty

A total of 105 Filipino nationals prepare to fly out of Dubai to Manila as part of the UAE's amnesty programme. Reem Mohammed / The National 
A total of 105 Filipino nationals prepare to fly out of Dubai to Manila as part of the UAE's amnesty programme. Reem Mohammed / The National 

More than 30,000 people have asked for help to adjust their legal status in the UAE since the visa amnesty began in August.

The scheme, that has been extended to December 1, allows residents who have overstayed their visas or people who entered the country illegally to modify their status with the government, to either return home or legally extend their stay without fear of fine or imprisonment.

Three months into the amnesty, the Philippine Government has paid for 2,417 flights for nationals to return home and almost 1,800 short validity passports have been issued by the Indian embassy and consulate in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, allowing residents to return home where they can apply for a permanent passport.

The Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai has issued 2,467 temporary travel documents to nationals who have lost their passports and wish to return home.

It has also processed 3,140 passport renewals for those wishing to apply for a six-month visa, or anyone with an offer of immediate employment.

So far, 1,203 Philippine nationals have admitted losing passports and applied for new ones under the amnesty to remain in the UAE and 2,308 exit passes have been paid for by the government.

Those with expired visas have been given a grace period until December 1 to settle their status or leave the UAE without penalty.

The extension of the deadline has thrown a lifeline to those struggling to clear debts and get their affairs in order before returning home after years of living illegally in the UAE.

It is also offering relief to many who were facing the break-up of families due to not having travel visas in place.

One of those residents living without a passport or visa is Pia, a Filipina who has lived in the UAE for 30 years.

She secured a job with a German construction firm but, after eight years, the company went bust owing her several months of unpaid salary and gratuity. She has two children aged 13 and 7.

Like many others who have come forward under the visa amnesty, Pia handed over her passport to her employer and was unable to obtain a new residents visa, or legal employment as a result.

“When the amnesty began I went to the immigration department for advice on what to do,” she said.

“They said my visa expired four months ago.

“For the last year I’ve been catering for friends' events and they pay me a little money. It is illegal, I know, but it is the only thing I can do for my family.

“I had no choice, and we have been living with one of my church friends in Sharjah.”

Pia, who is 43, went to college in the UAE and trained in marketing and sales. Working for the German construction company, she earned a basic salary of Dh15,000.

Although she went to court to recoup some of the money owed to her, about Dh200,000, her claim was unsuccessful.

“I was expecting some money, and I’ve been left with nothing,” she said.

“It has been really difficult for us as my husband also lost his job as a room service supervisor in a hotel.

“He also no longer has a visa and has to clear his bank debts before we can leave to go back home.

“My husband is waiting to have his bank cases cleared. I owed Dh22,000 to banks, but they have agreed to reduce it to Dh2,800 to allow me to leave the country.

“I have not been home for 11 years, and I will be leaving my friends in Dubai so it will be difficult to leave.

“I’m going to Manila; I do not know what waits for us there. Dubai has been home to me for so long.”

The family has flights booked back to Manila on November 13, paid for by the Philippine Government under its repatriation programme.

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The Philippines General Consul, Paul Cortes, has been co-ordinating the visa amnesty for hundreds of his nationals who have been asking for help.

“The visa amnesty extension this shows there is hope that more people can avail from this opportunity,” he said.

“A lot more people are extending to stay here than was anticipated, so we have had more new passport requests.

“There have been cases where people have handed their passports over in exchange for small favours or money, and that has also created problems.

“Most of the passports that had been lost had not been given to employers, but had been pawned.

“People should not to do this under any circumstances.”

Mr Cortes said that, although some banks were helping reduce debts of those without visas who wanted to return home, outstanding rental issues were proving harder to resolve.

“Fines have been lowered for some who have had no means of paying,” he said.

“For those who need to rectify their status, they need to act now.

“They need to get their personal documents together such as birth certificates, and resolve any outstanding civil cases before we can apply for amnesty on their behalf.”