While Indonesian and Sri Lankan doctors and community leaders support new requirements for infectious disease testing before entering the UAE, some officials say the tests will be too expensive for many workers.
New visa health tests welcomed by embassies
A requirement for expatriates to undergo a health test in their home countries before travelling to the UAE has been welcomed by Indonesian and Sri Lankan officials, despite concerns over the added cost to workers.
The new system would protect workers and employers from infectious diseases, the Indonesian and Sri Lankan officials said, and it would also prevent people with diseases from arriving for work in the UAE only to be sent home.
"I think this is excellent news about the medical checks. It's in all our interests that we make sure that the people who come to the UAE for work are fit and healthy," said Sarath Wijesinghe, the Sri Lankan ambassador.
"This is a common-sense move by the UAE authorities to ensure that the people that come to the country are free from disease. The Sri Lankan community in the UAE is good and strong and our nationals are well-educated and professional, therefore we are happy about this."
The new system, which comes into effect on October 1, will test workers for 16 medical conditions before granting them a visa to live or work in the UAE.
The Ministry of Health plans to introduce the tests in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The tests will then be implemented in eight further countries - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Hannan Hadi, the head of the consular section at the Indonesian embassy, said the plan would be "good for both the worker and the employer".
"Ten months ago, the embassy received a complaint from an Indonesian manager who was deported a month after arriving in the UAE. He tested positive for tuberculosis. This man was a manager in an Indonesian company and got an offer from a prestigious company in Abu Dhabi. But he failed his medical test and was sent back home. He told us that his family expected a better life in the UAE, but it was all in vain."
With the help of the embassy, the man was able to receive compensation from his employer.
Dr Ibrahim Al Qadi, the director of preventive medicine at the Ministry of Health, said the screenings would be beneficial to all.
"We do not want any infectious diseases to spread to the community, but this will also benefit the workers because if they are sick, they will have to return to their home country and it becomes a burden on them as well," Dr Al Qadi said.
Some officials were concerned about the cost of the tests.
While the second round of tests in the UAE is usually paid for by the companies sponsoring the employees, workers must pay for the preliminary exams, according to the Ministry of Health.
"This will be costly for the worker," Mr Hadi said. "For example, an HIV test in Jakarta costs about one million rupiah or Dh400 to Dh500." He said it would be a particular burden for women hoping to work as maids and nannies.
Punu Thushara, a member of the Overseas Sri Lankan and Pakistani Society in Dubai, said the extra medical tests would deter many expatriates from coming to the UAE.
"I can understand why the UAE is doing this and it is important, but I think if Sri Lankans have to pay for all these extra medical tests then they won't be able to afford them," Mr Thushara said. "Most of the expatriates are very poor and go into construction work, but I doubt most will be able to afford the repeated tests. If it is paid for by the companies then that would be more beneficial."
Mohammed Najeeb Alsharkasy, the manager of Al Narjes Services Establishment in Abu Dhabi, an agency that supplies workers, mostly housemaids from Indonesia and the Philippines, said medical tests were already being conducted in Jakarta and Manila before workers arrived in the UAE. The agencies in Indonesia and the Philippines paid for these tests, he said.
"They get tested for pregnancy, HIV, hepatitis and other diseases," Mr Alsharkasy said. "But we agree to the government's plan to include other medical conditions."
* With additional reporting by Bana Qabbani