UAE's 90-day amnesty programme gets robust response on first day with debt-laden foreign workers lining up

DATE: 03-Aug-2018 Reported By: Bikram Vohra, First Post

Over 15,000 Indian citizens in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) illegally will hopefully take advantage of the 90-day amnesty window as of 1 August. Special air-conditioned tents have been set up for them. These are largely people whose passports were taken by their companies, folks cheated by agents and a large number of runaways who now do odd jobs and make money to send home while looking over their shoulders for the Criminals Investigations Department to avoid being caught. Some have not been home for a decade and rely on WhatsApp and Imo messenger to get a glimpse of loved ones.

Indians have often availed of the offers initiated by the UAE government over the years to regularise their status but strapped for cash, many of them avoid the window and ride their luck. When it runs out, they get deported and that’s life from their point of view. The UAE authorities see illegals as a security threat because they have no roots and are a sort of urban nomadic tribe moving from place to place to duck detection.

According to Vipul, Consul General of India in Dubai, over 400 people lined up the first day, mainly blue-collar workers. Speaking to Firstpost, Vipul said, “The amnesty is the ideal opportunity to go home or at least stop living like a fugitive. We are geared up to ensure that every Indian is made legitimate by the end of the 90-day window. They just have to come forward.”

The problem is the time lag in proving that they are natives of a specific country since some have no papers at all. To get them going on their way, the Indian missions are in close contact with the authorities at home to confirm their bona fides. But it is time consuming and the same concept of security risk applies: Who are you?

According to Vipul, there are around 60,000 Indians in the UAE illegally. However, some feel their numbers are inflated by those who come on a visitor's visa and simply disappear into the system. Some of the stories are heart-rending. A mother and her three children have been in the UAE illegally for four years after the breadwinner of the family passed away. Zehan Khan, a 60-year-old carpenter, has been working without papers for 30 years but now wants out. A 75-year-old woman left for home after 25 years. A Filipino maid is trying to leave tonight so she can get married on 5 August 5, but she has no papers.

Debt is one of the sharpest nails that pin down those who want to become citizens. However, they're in so deep that they live day-to-day and cannot afford the legalisation process. The government's attitude of reasonable empathy and kindness towards those caught also contributes to taking a chance. The standard operation for those nabbed without a criminal record is four or five days in lock up and a ticket home: With biryani to boot. So, keep grinding away until luck runs out.

They are not fugitives from justice but the law. The UAE government makes strenuous efforts to control illegal residents. As per Federal Decree No. 2 of 2007, if an expatriate is caught working for a company other than the sponsor without an official permit, a fine of 50,000 dirhams will be slapped on the company, in addition to other penalties, in case of a repeat offence. Similarly, those who give shelter or employment to infiltrators or residency law violators will also be fined.

Federal Law No. 6 of 1973 regarding the entry and residence of foreigners says: No foreigner is entitled to work anywhere, whether paid or unpaid or as an employer, if he is on a visit visa. The person who is on the visa of a company or those who work with a person or institution is not supposed to work with any other party, without written consent and approval of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. Those who violate the law will face an imprisonment of three months and/or a fine not exceeding DH 10,000 and the court will order their deportation.

These are people who violated the residency law till 31 July by entering the UAE illegally, overstaying, or absconding. Those who entered the UAE illegally (without a visa) can exit the country without paying any fines. However, they face a two-year entry ban and can re-enter the UAE only after that period. Violations after 31 July will not be considered for amnesty. Those without a valid passport need to get an emergency certificate issued by his/her country’s embassy or consulate.

The Indian mindset has changed over the years. The 2003 UAE amnesty saw 30,000 Indians heading home, which indicated that there were a huge number of illegals in the country but that figure seems to have dwindled.