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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

UAE visa amnesty: amid the success stories many applicants still find themselves in legal limbo

There have been many happy endings with the amnesty – but residents continue to trudge between immigration centres daily while stuck in a legal grey area

Residents who have been trying to take advantage of the amnesty wait patiently at the Tasheel Centre in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National 
Residents who have been trying to take advantage of the amnesty wait patiently at the Tasheel Centre in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National 

Thousands of people flocked to immigration centres in the first days of the UAE's three-month visa amnesty earlier this month.

Many wanted to correct a mistake that resulted in them falling on the wrong side of the law: typically overstaying their visa or working on a tourist permit.

But after straightforward cases were settled – residents secured a valid visa or went home, fines waived – many remain in a frustrating limbo, unsure of where to go next.

Officials have reminded amnesty seekers they need their passport and other documents to move forward. They also reiterate that the amnesty is to ensure people living in the country are doing so legally, and that the process may not be simple for everyone.

Centres opened to amnesty seekers after the Eid break on Sunday and among them was Tassia Falcerose, a mother of three, who continued to work casually as a maid after the family she worked for returned to Ireland.

She has visited the two main immigration offices in Abu Dhabi on six occasions without making any real headway.

The 48-year-old claimed she has spent so much money paying for travel between centres in Shahama and Tasheel that it would have been cheaper to buy her own flight home.

But she hopes to have her fines waived, which are substantial given her visa expired in April 2015, and the charge is Dh100 per day.

“We were waiting in a queue at Tasheel for so long but when we got to the front they said the system was not ready,” Mrs Falcerose said.

“They gave us some paperwork and said go to the Shahama centre in seven days.”

“But when we got there they again said my name was not in the system. We had queued for ages and many people had collapsed outside from the heat.

“One Moroccan man beside me fainted so we went to Tasheel and waited for three or four hours. And over there they said go back to Shahama.

Residents who have been trying to take advantage of the amnesty wait patiently at the Tasheel Centre in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National 
Residents who have been trying to take advantage of the amnesty wait patiently at the Tasheel Centre in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa/The National 

“They said the same thing; that my name is not in the system,” she said.

The visa amnesty runs until October 31, and officials have urged applicants to be patient.

Substantial numbers have so far taken advantage of the grace period – previous amnesties in 2007 and 2013 resulted in more than 340,000 residents applying for help.

On Sunday, another frustrated resident from the Philippines who had overstayed her visa, said she too had been dogged by delays and uncertainty.

“I should have just deported myself,” she said. She was in the Shahama centre for the 10th time when she spoke to The National.

The 36-year-old, who did not wish to be named, added: “I’ve already spent around Dh1,000 travelling from Dubai to here and paying for the typing centres to print applications."

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Read more on the visa amnesty:

Editorial: Seize this opportunity to sort your visa issues

'Final chance' for UAE's illegal residents as amnesty approaches

Widows and divorcees tell of legal limbo strain as UAE's new mercy visas unveiled

Special report: Unwed expat mothers in legal limbo hope new visa laws will help them

Leaving the UAE: everything you need to know before you go

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Abr Macalanda, a cake decorator from the Philippines, also explained how he had been trying to find the right authority to assist him.

His employment contract with his former boss ended last March, but he was unable to transfer his residency visa to his new employer.

“So I had to overstay my visa for four months,” the 35-year-old said. “I’ve been to the Shahama centre four times, Tasheel seven times, and a number of times to the immigration department in Abu Dhabi.

“They still can’t identify the problem – they said my file is not in the system.”

A third woman, who again asked not to be named, told how officials at the Shahama centre had made her repeat her application twice.

To her dismay she later discovered that her first application had actually already been approved.

The mother of four said she had overstayed her visa from 2015 after her husband had become involved in a court case and they were unable to renew their residency.

“The first time I went to Shahama to get an exit pass it was a week after August 1.

“They gave me a piece of paper and told me to go to Tasheel to print an application.”

After doing that and paying Dh330 for the processing, I was told to take my application back to Shahama on August 14.

“But then they told me it was entirely wrong and I had to apply again and pay a further Dh330 again.”

When she took the new application to the immigration department she was then told that her first application had been correct and had already been approved.

“I want to make it clear that ladies who are suffering like me should be given the correct information. Otherwise we feel helpless.”

Immigration officials were not available to discuss delays, but speaking earlier this month, Brig Gen Saeed Al Shamsi, spokesman for the centre in Shahama, reiterated that "this amnesty is positive and ... should be taken advantage of".

Updated: August 27, 2018 01:41 PM

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