Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 September 2019

Time running out for Pakistani family as six-month amnesty visa ends

Officials caution residents to follow UAE rules as amnesty visa cannot be extended

Mahjbeen Ahmed, Mr Ali's wife, with their two sons, Ariz, 3, and Abban, 4. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Mahjbeen Ahmed, Mr Ali's wife, with their two sons, Ariz, 3, and Abban, 4. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

A man who lost his livelihood after being duped by his employer and jailed is now fighting to keep his family in the UAE.

Time is running out for the family of Ahmed Ali, from Pakistan, who are reaching the end of the six-month visa extensions they received during a government-ordered amnesty period last year. If Mr Ali is unable to pay for cost of sponsoring his family, before their visas expire on June 5, he will be forced to send his wife and two sons home.

In August last year, the UAE announced a five-month amnesty period for people who overstayed their visas, waiving fines on the condition that such residents came forward to settle their documents.

Options for people who overstayed their visas included applying for a six-month extension, to give them time to find a job, or applying for an exit pass to return home.

Officials have since warned the former that the six-month amnesty visa cannot be extended and that people who remain in UAE with expired documents face severe penalties and imprisonment.

The amnesty programme gave owners of struggling businesses and people without jobs the opportunity to seek employment for a period of six months to rectify their status. Thousands of residents who overstayed or entered the country illegally benefited from the scheme.

Mr Ali applied for the six-month amnesty visa in Abu Dhabi in August last year, upon his release from prison.

He was jailed after several cheques, signed by his employer, bounced and he was held liable as the official signatory for the company when the owner fled the country — leaving him with Dh90,000 in court fines to pay.

The Pakistani embassy raised money from the community on his behalf to pay off his outstanding court fees and, while Mr Ali now has a visa, he still owes Dh117,000 to a former business acquaintance who filed a civil case against him when his cheque bounced.

If he fails to make payment, he faces a three-year jail sentence.

"I don't want to go to jail again," said Mr Ali, 43. "If I get this case over with I know I can pick myself back up, I am already trying."

He is also unable to cover the costs of sponsoring his family so they may remain in the UAE with him. He said sending them home will be equally expensive.

"If I will send my family home, I will need at least Dh15,000 for the travel costs and to find them a place to live in and provide their basic needs," he said.

“I was hoping to renew [my family’s] visas but I am struggling,” said Mr Ali,

His work as a freelance real estate agent does not pay enough to cover household expenses, so the family has relied on friends to help with groceries.

“I used to have a good job and a good life before this crisis," said Mr Ali.

“I had never entered a police station in my life, and then I spent seven months in jail. My son was still a baby; imagine the situation my wife was in.”

After the turmoil the family has been through, Mr Ali remains hopeful a good Samaritan will come forward to pay Dh16,000 towards his family’s visa renewal fees and medical tests for his wife and children that he cannot afford.

His story is not unlike that of others searching for well-paying secure jobs. Officials have cautioned struggling residents against bringing their family back to the UAE until their financial circumstances improve.

Brig Saeed Al Rashidi, director general of foreigners’ affairs and ports at the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship said those who overstay the temporary six-month visa “will be treated the same way as residency visa violators.”

Penalties include a Dh100 fine beginning the first day after the visa expires and Dh25 for every day of delay. Penalties for severe delays include imprisonment and even deportation.

"Residents who benefited from the six-month visa should leave the country in case they have not found a job or a sponsor before the visa expiration date,” said Brig Al Rashidi. “This will help avoid a ban on re-entering the country.”

Consulates have also advised those without clear paperwork to leave the country.

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 
Filipinas prepare to fly out of Dubai to Manila as part of the UAE's amnesty programme. Reem Mohammed / The National

As many as 30,000 people approached the Bangladesh Embassy to renew their passports or travel documents to leave the UAE since August.

“People have tried to convert the amnesty visa into a work visa by finding a job,” said Muhammed Imran, Bangladesh's ambassador to the UAE.

“We have cautioned people to follow the local rules when their visa expires. If they don’t have a job, they should go back and try to return legally,” he said,

Consulates and embassies did not have figures of the number of nationals who chose to remain or leave after fresh passports or travel documents are issued.

“The general preference of people during the amnesty programme was to stay behind to correct their legal status by renewing their passport so they could find a job,” said Vipul, India’s Consul General in Dubai.

“We have made appeals to the Indian community that they should not overstay.”

Paul Cortes, Philippine Consul-General said most Filipinos would have left if they did not secure jobs.

“They would have finished six months by the end of May so we hope they become responsible and leave,” he said.

Some 3,025 Filipinos returned home by the end of the amnesty in December last year.

At least 2,721 applied for new passport, replacement of lost passports or for renewal and 2,496 applied for travel documents to return home to the Philippines.

Charitha Yattogoda, Sri Lanka’s Consul General said citizens had been urged to find a sponsor to live legally in the UAE.

“The Consulate General wishes to reiterate that if any person still chooses to remain in UAE without rectifying their visa, such persons will have to face the legal consequences emanating from the immigration policy of UAE, which will be beyond the approach of our officers,” he said.

“Such citizens are urged to make full use of their rectified visa status either to legalise their stay in UAE or to exit the country as a law- abiding citizen.”

The consulate also asked citizens to be vigilant about the expiry dates of their visa, passports, and to renew documents on time as delays could “drag the persons concerned towards dire consequences.”

Updated: June 2, 2019 01:36 PM

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