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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

UAE residents flock to Tasheel ahead of amnesty deadline

Around 400 people visit the centre every day with 6,300 applications registered to date

Amnesty applicants wait their turn at the Tasheel centre at Al Raha Mall in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National
Amnesty applicants wait their turn at the Tasheel centre at Al Raha Mall in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National

Officials at government centres across the country are gearing up for a busy month as the three-month visa amnesty programme draws to a close.

On Tuesday, hundreds of undocumented workers formed a long queue at Al Raha mall’s Tasheel centre in Abu Dhabi as they waited for assistance from authorities to correct their legal status in the country.

Under the amnesty, those who have overstayed their visas are able to apply to leave the country without facing fines or, in some cases, imprisonment.

Workers are also able to request a new UAE residency visa that allows them six months to find a new job and sponsor.

Khaled Al Maazmi, assistant deputy general director, check applicant papers at the Tasheel centre at Al Raha mall, Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National
Khaled Al Maazmi, assistant deputy general director, check applicant papers at the Tasheel centre at Al Raha mall, Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National

Speaking from the Tasheel at Al Raha mall immigration centre, Khalid Al Maazmi, assistant deputy general director, admitted that the programme - which began in August - had not got off to the best start.

He said many applicants based in Abu Dhabi had initially been bounced back and forth between different centres in Tasheel and Shahama, but that staff had since rallied round to finesse procedures and cut waiting times.

“Even though nobody informed us that the applicants would be coming to us we received them and tried to help them,” said Mr Al Maazmi.

“One week later, two immigration employees arrived and explained to us how to process the applications in the system.”

Mr Al Maazmi said some of his staff had gone the extra mile to assist those needing help, including starting WhatsApp groups to improve co-ordination between different centres.

“We are trying to do what we can to make it easier for the people,” he said. “We want to avoid sending them back and forth.”

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Read more:

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After the amnesty: How will the UAE's jobseeker visa beckon talent but reject illegal migration?

Visa amnesty: a new chapter begins for thousands of UAE residents

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On Wednesday, the most recent figures showed the Al Raha mall centre had so far processed some 6,300 amnesty applicants.

Around 5,000 of those are understood to been resolved successfully, with an additional 1,000 requiring extra work.

“Some undocumented workers who come here face an ongoing court case in the country so we can’t process their application immediately,” Mr Al Maazmi said. “Many come back for follow up.”

The Al Raha Tasheel centre currently deals with around 400 applications a day, although this number is expected to rise.

Its 20 staff man the office for 12 hours a day, operating Saturday to Thursday between 8am to 8pm.

The Shahama facility, meanwhile, receives more than a thousand applicants a day.

“We will be asking the staff if they’re willing to work double shifts,” said Mr Al Maazmi.

“There are already some working overtime and they get bonuses for processing more applications.”

Sarah, from Ethiopia, said she had been able to obtain a six-month visa under the scheme in just three days.

“I came three days ago to apply and they told me what documents I needed to present and what payment to make,” the 26-year-old housemaid said.

“They issued the visa very quickly and now I’m just waiting for my friend to get hers.”

Christopher Nwokeke, 44, a Nigerian trader, said he was waiting in line to resolve an outstanding issue caused by overstaying in the UAE.

He said when he last entered the country he did so via the Hatta crossing on the border with Oman. Since then, his visa had lapsed by three months.

“At one point immigration stopped giving Nigerians visas, so I overstayed,” he said. “So I’ve come to Tasheel to proceed with my application. I’ve only been here for an hour.”

The UAE’s amnesty programme began on August 1 this year and runs through until October 31.