Staff forced to pay for visa renewal
ABU DHABI // Unscrupulous employers are illegally charging staff up to Dh15,000 every two years for the renewal of their employment visas.
The practice is common among small-business owners and most of the victims are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, working in the tailoring industry and in grocery shops. They remain silent out of fear for their jobs.
Visas for manual workers in Abu Dhabi must be renewed every two years at a cost of Dh2,879. By law, the employer must pay. Instead some pass the cost – and more – on to staff.
“The exploitation starts from Dh5,000 reaching up to Dh15,000 in some cases,” said Mohammed Shahadat Husain, a counsellor at the Bangladesh embassy in Abu Dhabi.
“Sponsors take this money. They literally threaten to cancel the visa if the visa charges are not paid,” Mr Husain said.
“I have cases in my own hand. One Bangladeshi came to me this morning and told me his sponsor was demanding Dh10,000 for renewal.”
Sultan Al Sammahi, a member of the FNC’s labour, health and social affairs committee, said charging employees for visa renewal was a “vile” practice that needed to end.
“This is very wrong,” he said, “companies taking advantage of workers and their need to work in the UAE.”
He said on some occasions workers were promised far higher pay in their home country only to come to the UAE after having paid thousands for their visa to be on a far lower wage.
“Some come in debt,” Mr Al Sammahi said. “They sell their home, land and other belongings back home to come here. And they don’t get the job they were promised once they reach here. And it’s usually people of their own nationality who trick them and make them pay for their visa and take advantage of their vulnerability.”
He urged workers to go to the Ministry of Labour if they felt their employer was taking advantage of them. “They protect workers’ rights,” he said.
A Bangladeshi tailor in Abu Dhabi who has lived in the country for 25 years said this was the first year he had not paid visa renewal charges. He has paid about Dh3,000 each time.
“We can’t argue or complain about this otherwise the boss would cancel our visa and get others from India or Pakistan who are ready to buy the visa,” he said.
Another Pakistani worker paid the fees directly to his employer. “They take visa charges to ensure that workers don’t flee,” he said. “Otherwise they can leave the job after six months and find another one. If you roam around the market, you can find all workers would have paid for their visas and now pay for renewals. Some pay in half, while some pay in full. It depends on the business.”
An Indian expatriate said: “I paid Dh1,500 for renewal of my visa and the rest was paid by my [business] owner. Every month he deducts Dh200 from the salary.”
The man earns Dh1,500 a month but said he was pleased to receive more money at Ramadan and Eid.
A Bangladeshi construction worker said his company paid his renewal fees, but he had paid 250,000 taka, about Dh12,000, for his initial employment visa.
A Nepalese expatriate who works in a grocery shop in Mussaffah said: “I paid 180,000 Nepalese rupees, about Dh6,500, for my visa three years back and now I pay for my renewals.”
He said the shop owner required him to repay half the renewal expenses.
Dhananjay Jha, the Nepalese ambassador, said: “The embassy has received such cases where Nepalese have complained of being forced to pay visa renewal charges. Every four to six months we get a few such cases.”
When the mission inquired, the employers denied taking money from employees. It becomes a matter of the worker’s word against the employer, Mr Jha said.
“But it’s obvious everybody buys new entry visas back home to come here, while some, we can say, are asked to make renewal payments.”
The Pakistan consulate in Dubai also deals with visa and illegal payment disputes every month.
Haroon Malik, labour attache at the consulate, said complaints were often a result of individuals making illegitimate agreements with employers, such as working on a profit-sharing basis and earning more than staff on a fixed salary. “Lack of trust and shrinking business lead to visa fee disputes,” Mr Malik said. Then employees resort to the mission and labour courts for help.
“When an employee wants to return home and change jobs, he can’t do it, as business owners won’t release passports,” he said.
In case of severe disputes, business owners complain to the Ministry of Labour about absconding employees, and the embassy only discovers it later on.
A Pakistani shop owner in Abu Dhabi said deducting money for visa renewal was reasonable, because he paid his staff well. He said he and his employees agreed on a salary of Dh700 a month officially, but they actually earn at least Dh3,000 a month by working on commission.
“I spend more than Dh10,000 on bringing a worker, then they work and repay,” he said.
He admitted that visa fees should be paid by the employer, but said: “I don’t exploit them. I paid their security deposit of Dh3,000 each, but I didn’t ask them to repay it.”
The Ministry of Labour and the immigration department at the Ministry of Interior were asked to comment two weeks ago. Neither has responded.
* Additional reporting by Ola Salem