x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Filipinos slow to respond despite being days from UAE amnesty deadline

Filipinos living illegally in the UAE are not rushing to secure amnesty although the deadline is drawing near, says the Philippine embassy.

ABU DHABI // With only a few days left before the end of a visa amnesty for illegal residents, Filipinos have been slow to respond to the Government’s offer to allow them to leave voluntarily without paying fines or the threat of imprisonment.

From December 4 to January 23, the Philippine Embassy has assisted 1,502 of its citizens who would like to benefit from the amnesty, which ends on February 4.

During the same period, officials issued 520 travel documents and released 588 passports that were returned by immigration authorities to the embassy. The rest had valid passports or applied for an extension of their passport’s validity.

About 10,000 Filipinos are estimated to be in the UAE illegally, said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, this month.

After February 4, offenders will face a daily fine of Dh100 for visa breaches, and Dh25 for residency offences.

“I’m relieved that no one will arrest me between now and February 4,” said a 40-year-old Filipina from Tiaong, Quezon, about 100 kilometres south of Manila. Yesterday, she got her travel document at the Philippine Embassy and was told to go to the identity registration office in Mussaffah to apply for a pass allowing her to leave.

She ran away from her Jordanian employer in October 2009. He and his Lebanese wife had paid her only Dh700 a month, did not allow her to use a mobile phone to contact her three children in the Philippines and locked her inside their home. For more than three years, she worked part-time cleaning homes and an office in Abu Dhabi, earning about Dh1,800 a month.

“My daughter is graduating from college in March,” she said. “I’m so excited to be going home but I’m also sad because there’s no job waiting for me there. I’d like to return to the UAE.”

Another Filipina maid who applied for a travel document yesterday said her former Emirati employer was good to her. But she was paid Dh750, almost 50 per cent below the US$400 (Dh1,469) minimum monthly wage required by the Philippines.

“Her mother treated us badly,” said the woman, a 28-year-old from Cotabato City in the Philippines, who fled her employer’s home in November 2011. “She didn’t allow us to rest in the afternoon ... and forced us to eat leftovers that they had thrown away.”

The Dubai consulate has been receiving 100 to 150 amnesty-seekers a day since last month.

“It is not yet too late to avail of the amnesty even if there is barely one week left,” said Frank Cimafranca, the consul-general at the Philippine consulate in Dubai. “For those who have no legal impediments and who are eligible for the grant of amnesty, I call on them not to waste this opportunity to regularise their status or to start anew by first voluntarily leaving the UAE,” he said.

Last week, the Ministry of Interior asked residents to report overstayers, or those who entered the UAE illegally, via its Sahim service on 80080.

rruiz@thenational.ae