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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Overstay visa families told to settle cases before seeking amnesty

Lawyers tell UAE residents to prioritise court cases to alter legal residency status 

Thousands of people who have overstayed their visas are expected to come forward and change their legal status after the UAE Cabinet waived re-entry bans.

But those who have civil and criminal case filed against them remain hesitant to approach authorities.

Experts said residents who hope to legalise their status must first address any cases filed against them – specifically people who defaulted on bank loans, credit card payments or have absconding cases filed against them for not cancelling work visas.

“People don’t know where to start, so we explain that immigration overstay is the last case you have to address before you leave the country,” said Barney Almazar, head of legal aid at the Philippine consulate.

“Pending cases because of non-payment of bank dues must be negotiated with the bank, and once that is cleared will people get clearance to leave,” he said.

“If they have three police cases, they must clear all three. Any criminal case will have to be prioritised, and only when the trial is finished will they be allowed to exit and avail of this new immigration amnesty.”

Prior to the new laws, penalties and a re-entry ban were imposed on people without valid visas. These financial penalties have been lifted by authorities for overstay offenders who leave the country voluntarily, and a programme with details about how to alter visa status will soon be announced.

Amanjeet Singh, a financial consultant who works with the Indian consulate to help workers, said there were several cases of children stranded without access to education and health care after their parents defaulted on credit cards.

As per the new rules, lawyers and welfare workers said they believed children could be sent to their home country if relatives were ready to care for them. Many parents hope to resolve their illegal status and remain in the country.

“This visa waiver is the only chance for their children to go back,” Mr Singh said.

“We help them talk to banks to lower the amount that needs to be paid back. Even if they miss a payment of one-two months, the interest builds up and it is not possible for them to pay. Naturally banks want their money back, but we need to find middle ground.”

Some residents, keen to take on new jobs, have fallen prey to unscrupulous money lenders and believed fake assurances that they would clear their cases for a fee.

“They resort to these people because they are afraid to go to jail. Then they are duped and lose more money. Their passport may be held by a loan shark [illegal money lender]. But that is not the government’s problem, so all this needs to be resolved first,” said Mr Almazar, who advises people calling to ask how to change their status.

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Read more:

UAE legal Q&As: can I leave the country without paying off my debt?

New one-year residencies for widows and divorced women explained

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Residents with absconding cases filed by previous employers must contact their former sponsor and appeal for withdrawal of the files.

India and the Philippines are among five countries with the highest number of expatriates living and working in the UAE and their missions in the Emirates are among the busiest in the region.

The Philippine consulate has helped repatriate 642 people and 33 children January and April, and disbursed $250,000 (Dh918,300) as funding for assistance to their citizens that includes plane tickets home.

As many as 1,300 Filipino nationals and 23 children were repatriated last year and 340 citizens in 2016.

The Indian consulate has provided tickets to 157 Indians and 13 children and paid overstay visa fines in nine cases this year.

The consulate repatriated 403 stranded Indians and 22 children last year. In 2016, it helped 225 stranded Indians and 23 children.

Immigration and overstay fines were paid for 54 Indians last year and for 19 Indians in 2016.

The Indian Community Welfare Fund offers short-term food and accommodation allowances, tickets at government cost for repatriation, initial legal assistance and emergency medical help.