x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Indian officials prepare for visa and residency amnesty

Around 25,000 people expected to take advantage of pardon on illegal residents and either return to India or stay legally in the UAE.

DUBAI // Indian diplomatic missions in the UAE are stocking up on blank passports and increasing staff numbers to deal with the influx of people expected during the two-month visa amnesty starting next week.

Officials have requested passports from New Delhi ahead of the amnesty for illegal residents who have overstayed their visas or residency permits.

People without visas can leave the UAE from December 4 without being fined. After February 4, they will face fines of Dh100 a day for visa offences and Dh25 a day for residency offences.

"We have set in motion administrative measures in the embassy and the consulate," said MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador, after a meeting with consulate officials last Thursday.

"We are having a discussion to have additional staff and passport booklets. We have informed authorities in India to dispatch them quickly. We want to ensure we have adequate manpower, stationery and passport books. We are getting ourselves ready."

This is the fourth amnesty declared by the UAE for illegal immigrants. The first was in 2002 followed by 2005 and 2007. During the previous amnesty, an estimated 40,000 Indian nationals left the country while another 37,000 legalised their status to remain in the Emirates, making Indians the largest expatriate community to take advantage of the pardon.

This time, however, officials estimate a relatively smaller number will leave.

"In the first amnesty in 2002, there were more than 100,000 applications," said K Kumar, head of the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), whose volunteers have helped at previous amnesties.

"This year, it would be a maximum of 25,000 applicants."

He said he had arrived at this estimate based on the "floating population" of the community. The Indian ambassador said the missions did not "expect large numbers" this time.

All 16 branches of the Indian government's outsourced passport and visa centre - the BLS International Visa and Passport Services - will accept amnesty applications and forward them to the diplomatic missions. This is the first time the outsourcing centre is helping with the process.

Mr Lokesh said Indian nationals without proper travel documents could start approaching the centre from tomorrow.

"Those who have valid passports but no valid visa do not have to come to us. They can go to the immigration directly. But, in cases where people don't have passports or their passports have expired, they should immediately approach BLS International. They will, however, need some ID to prove they are Indian nationals."

A photocopy of the passport or any ID establishing their nationality will suffice, he said.

"In the majority of cases, we will issue documents in three or four days. In cases when applicants may not have travel documents, it will take time."

The ambassador said staff will approach state governments in India to arrange air tickets if necessary.

He said: "We are hoping the majority will find their own means to buy tickets. Only in extreme cases, depending on the numbers, will we approach government authorities."

Meanwhile, over 200 volunteers from the ICWC will aid the Indian consulate during the amnesty period.

"We are waiting to hear from the consulate. We have given details of what we did the last time," Mr Kumar said.

The Sharjah Indian Association said it was awaiting instructions from the consulate for this year's procedures.

"We helped fill applications and submit them to the consulate last time. We hope to do the same this year," said a spokesman.

pkannan@thenational.ae