x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ministry uncovers visa abuse

Passport officials are issuing residency visas illegally to housemaids and casual workers, says the Ministry of Interior.

Some officials have granted work visas for sponsors who obtained Emirati passports legally.
Some officials have granted work visas for sponsors who obtained Emirati passports legally.

ABU DHABI // Unscrupulous passport officials have been issuing residency visas illegally to housemaids and casual workers, says the Ministry of Interior, which is vowing to flush out its "in-house lawbreakers". "We are ready to strike back and we are catching those who break the law," said Brig Gen Nasser al Minhali, the head of the Abu Dhabi Naturalisation and Residence Directorate. "We won't go easy on any employee who breaks the law and tries to help visa traders."

While tough new penalties had reduced the activities of gangs that dealt in counterfeit visas, Brig Gen Minhali said he was aware that some officials in his department were abusing the system. Until recently, the directorate received one or two telephone tip offs every day reporting gangs that were selling visas for between Dh5,000 (US$1,361) and Dh12,000. But since last year, when the Government introduced prison sentences and fines of up to Dh70,000 for the offence, the number of incidents has fallen.

"Now when we get a call it is about one of the employees using his privileged position to issue visas he is not supposed to issue," said Brig Gen Minhali. "This information is more important to us as it is faster and easier to act upon; it speeds up the process of catching the violators. It is a more scientific technique." Brig Gen Minhali said the department was also monitoring potential offenders among the public. "We are applying an evaluation system: if Emirati "Nasser" came and asked for 10 visas for housemaids and then the following day said they had all run away, the next time we would not issue visas unless it was absolutely necessary."

In 2007, the department caught 600,000 people violating visa laws, including those who had overstayed their official welcome and others who were working on visit visas. Since November 2007, however, there have been only 16,734 such cases. The department is now focusing its efforts on what officials have described as "in-house lawbreakers". Any employee found to be involved in the sale of visas is not only fired but faces six months in prison and a fine of up to Dh70,000.

Penalties have been increased for visa violators: previously, anyone employing a maid they had not sponsored could be fined a maximum of Dh10,000. Now, in addition to a Dh50,000 fine, they can be jailed for a month and, if they are not Emirati, will be deported. Brig Gen Minhali said his department was also clamping down on illegal immigrants, workers who ran away and people working on visit visas - and those who helped them. In one case, a resident of Baniyas was fined Dh1 million and jailed for a month after being caught housing 10 illegal immigrants.

A visa amnesty between June and November last year gave many the chance to find jobs and legalise their status. More than 95,000 took advantage of the opportunity, while 246,699 left the UAE with a visa ban, said Brig Gen Minhali. After the amnesty ended, more than 6,000 violators were caught in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. The amnesty was accompanied by the introduction of various preventive measures: brochures are now given out at airports explaining the visa laws and the consequences of breaking them, sponsors and workers are sent text messages a month before visas expire and, as a deterrent, all serious cases are widely publicised.

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