Policy will protect workers, help them voluntarily change their status and avoid penalties
UAE's new lenient visa overstay laws to take pressure off welfare groups
The UAE’s new visa legislation will lighten the load on consulates and welfare organisations that pay penalties on behalf of residents with expired visas to ease their return home when they lose their jobs.
Sweeping reforms to the country’s visa and labour insurance laws, announced last week, have been welcomed as a humane approach showing more leniency and compassion towards residents who have overstayed their visas.
On Monday, the UAE Cabinet approved a resolution that established a three-month grace period for “illegal residents” to change their visa status and apply for a one-year stay permit.
Ali Mohammed bin Hammad said the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, of which he is chairman, would launch a ‘Protect yourself by modifying your status,’ initiative to implement Cabinet’s decision.
“Those who have such a status won't face legal consequences, will be exempt from fines,” he said, according to Wam, the state news agency.
The measures have been widely appreciated.
“These are welcome changes and will help the community greatly. We get a lot of overstay cases where people do not have money and still stay here. In many instances the consulate had to pay the fines through the Indian community welfare fund,” said Mr Vipul, Indian consul general in Dubai.
“India being the country with a maximum number of workers here, this will help our community a great deal.”
The Indian Community Welfare Fund offers short term food and accommodation allowance, air-ticket at government cost for their repatriation to India, initial legal assistance and emergency medical help.
As per the new law, residents who overstay their visas can leave the country voluntarily without a “no entry” passport stamp.
Previously, visa overstay offenders were dealt re-entry bans but this penalty was removed on June 13.
The legislation also replaced the Dh3,000 bank guarantee per worker that companies were required to deposit for each new hire.
Instead, low income workers will be protected with a Dh60 per worker annual payment employers will make as part of a low-cost insurance policy. The maximum payout has been capped at a Dh20,000 per worker which will cover end of service benefits, holiday allowance, unpaid wages, return air ticket and any work injury.
“The consulate can pay for a return ticket if someone loses their job and can also provide them with sustenance for a few days, but what the consulate cannot do is we do not have provisions for paying salaries, that is not the function of the consulate,” Mr Vipul said.
“If workers are protected by companies moving from bank guarantees to an insurance scheme at a nominal rate that will cover unpaid wages and end of service benefits, this will be of great benefit to the workers.”
The Indian consulate has provided tickets to 157 Indians in Dubai and the northern emirates to return home so far this year and provided legal counselling, guidance on visa overstay and cancellation of visas.
Of the 2,696 people who approached the Philippines mission for help between January and April, it has helped repatriate 642 people and distributed $250,000 from the Assistance to Nationals funding that includes plane tickets home.
The Assistance to Nationals fund covers repatriation costs, living and medical expenses of distressed Filipino workers.
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines make up the countries with the highest number of expatriates living and working in the UAE. The UAE is among the top 10 countries including the US, Germany, Saudi Arabia and UK hosting the largest cross-section of international migrants, as per 2016 United Nations figures.
In most cases, residents overstay their visas when they lose their jobs or their company shuts down. While awaiting final clearance of wages, fines build up as their legal documentation expires.
The reforms introduced a six-month visa for job seekers who have overstayed their employment visa but want to continue working in the UAE.
Philippines Consul General Paul Cortes said the recent measures enhanced the UAE’s position as a country of opportunity and a destination for talented professionals.
“It certainly is a positive development because it gives people a chance and opportunity to realise their goals for themselves professionally as well as reach their vision of a prosperous future for their family. It makes the UAE attractive and a magnet for talented people,” he said.
“The new laws on overstaying will also have a considerable impact as far as financial allocations to assist our nationals in distress are concerned. The laws point to the progressiveness and forward looking mentality of the leadership here and are very welcome.”