x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Filipinos plot diplomatic solution to visa crisis

Filipino diplomats have asked to meet UAE immigration authorities as thousands remain stranded in Iran and Oman.

Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman, has told fellow nationals that diplomats are trying to resolve visit visa issues.
Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman, has told fellow nationals that diplomats are trying to resolve visit visa issues.

BURAIMI // Filipino diplomats have asked to meet with UAE immigration authorities as thousands of workers remain stranded in Iran and Oman while on so-called visa runs. Libran Cabactulan, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said his embassy would make "high-level representations" on behalf of the stranded Filipinos. He would not elaborate. By yesterday, authorities said, about 3,000 Filipinos who had been stranded in Iran or Oman had returned to Dubai after receiving new 30-day visas.

Acmad Omar, the Philippine ambassador in Oman, visited some the Filipinos who remained in Buraimi and Khasab. Some wept as they appealed for help in getting their UAE visas. "I've been here since Sept 8," said Sheila, 39, from Davao City. "I don't want to return to the Philippines. What will I do there? My husband has been sending money while I'm here, but I hope to get a job in Dubai soon." Another Filipina, who would not give her name, said: "Some of us are waiting for our employment visas. I've been here for 34 days and I wonder why it's taking such a long time. We were told that it was due to Ramadan, but why is it that others managed to get their visas in a matter of days?"

"I don't want to be deported," another woman said. "We thank you for visiting us, but please help us so we don't have to pay fines for overstaying in Oman." The ambassador handed out boxes of food, water and toiletries. "We don't need food," a woman said. "We just need our visas so we can return to Dubai and get jobs to support our families back home." Mr Omar told them their embassies in Abu Dhabi and Muscat were trying to resolve the crisis. "I have made strong representation with the ministry of foreign affairs in Oman to waive the fees of stranded Filipinos who have overstayed in Oman while waiting for their UAE visas, or at least reduce the fees. The Philippine ambassador in the UAE will also file cases against travel agencies who did not fulfil their promises."

Brig Gen Nasser al Awadi al Minhali, acting director general of the UAE's Federal Naturalisation and Residency Department, has said those who wanted new visit visas should return to their home countries for a month. Mr Omar said all the Filipinos in Oman had refused to return to the Philippines. "We are trying our best to help them," he said. Officials from the Philippine Embassy in Muscat have been sent to Buraimi, while one from the embassy in Tehran is scheduled to visit Kish Island, according to the foreign affairs department in Manila.

An employee of a travel agency in Dubai who spoke on the condition of anonymity said there were inconsistencies in how visas were approved or rejected. "There are Filipinos who exited for the first time but had their visas rejected, but other Filipinos didn't have problems getting new visas after their sixth visa run. "And why is it that we continue to send people on visa-change runs to neighbouring countries and they are able to return to Dubai on new visas?"

rruiz@thenational.ae Editorial, page 23