As part of a campaign against illegal immigration, bus passengers travelling to capital will be subject to random visa inspections.
Police conduct random visa checks
ABU DHABI // Bus passengers travelling to Abu Dhabi are facing random checks by police demanding to see valid visas as part of an aggressive national campaign against illegal immigration. The inspections are conducted daily near the Carrefour supermarket on Airport Road by passport control officers. Passengers must provide passport or visa identification, the Ministry of Interior said. Anyone who did not could be arrested and released only when they proved they had valid visas. The checks on bus passengers are part of a government effort to curb what officials call the trading of national security for "narrow" self-interest. It involves surprise inspections where illegal workers live or work, such as industrial areas and construction sites. Officials also are encouraging residents to report illegal immigrants. Authorities say their efforts could be fruitless if people refuse to turn in those in violation of immigration laws and continue to employ them. During the first 10 days of a nationwide campaign that started on November 9, 268 illegal immigrants were arrested, according to officials. A total 25,313 visa violators and illegal immigrants were arrested between November 2007 and January this year. Of those, 2,967 were illegal immigrants, and of that number, 128 were repeat offenders. But as long as wages in the UAE outweighed the risks of prison and deportation, workers would continue to find their way into the country, officials said. Those who hire illegal immigrants say they fill a useful void in the employment market, as it is a lengthy and expensive process to bring in workers from abroad. A construction contractor, who identified himself as Abdullah, 41, from Jordan, said he had recruited illegal immigrants "numerous times" and he knew many others who had done so. "They exist in large numbers," he said. "We had several of them working with us in Al Ain, mostly from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are Indians who came from Oman with Omani visas and stayed here and never left. "Everyone hires them," he added. "If we need a worker, why wouldn't we get one? The costs of a worker here are high so we bring a violating worker for a short while." To hire someone legally, a company must pay Dh7,000 (US$1,900) to Dh9,000 for tickets, insurance and visa fees. If a company uses a recruitment agency, it can pay thousands of additional dirhams. That leads to incentives to hire workers cheaply and on short notice, business owners said. Illegal labour, they said, saved time, money and effort. "In my case, I hire them for a short period of time," Abdullah said. "Sometimes for few months or weeks. It depends on how busy we are." He said contractors knew where to find workers. "They are usually hired through telephones, through word of mouth," he added. "People know who they are and where they are. "There are places where illegal workers hang out. "For the most part, they do day-to-day manual jobs. "We love them because they would just give them Dh50 and that is it; they don't have to pay their costs, no accommodation, no responsibility." To avoid surprise inspections, businesses hire them in residential areas or indoors. Some workers told Abdullah they came to the country by boat; they were dropped in the water and swam to shore. They pay about US$100 each - a minimal cost compared with fees ordinarily charged by the Government or recruitment companies. A Dh50,000 fine is imposed on employers who recruit foreigners without gaining work permits. Workers caught without valid visas, meanwhile, are deported, possibly after serving jail sentences or paying fines, depending on the court. Residents who overstay their residency visas are fined Dh25 per day; overstaying any other type of visa entails a fine of Dh100 per day. Dr Ahmad Alomosh, the chairman of the sociology department at the University of Sharjah and a specialist in crime and family, said entering the country illegally could hurt both society and national security. He said there could be different reasons for crossing borders, but in the case of the GCC countries it was mainly for work. But because illegal workers did not carry identification documents, he said, keeping track of them was difficult. They could have a criminal record, they could be wanted in their home country or be members of organised criminal groups, he said. In September, 51 people working illegally were arrested in cafes and tailors' shops in Abu Dhabi. A month earlier, 16 people were arrested on construction sites in Madinat Zayed. Maj Gen Nasser al Minhali, the acting director of the Naturalisation and Residency Department, said inspections and raids would continue. He criticised what he called the trading of national interests for "narrow" self-interests and financial gains. Officials warned that anyone harbouring illegal immigrants would face the "toughest measures". In June, an Emirati living in Bani Yas was sentenced to two months in jail and fined Dh900,000 for housing nine illegal immigrants. email@example.com