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Consulate General of India in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: More than 2,000 stranded Indians without valid passports sought to fly home from the UAE during the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian missions here have revealed to Gulf News.

As many as 2,027 Indians were issued emergency certificates (EC), a one-way travel document also known as an outpass, issued for facilitating their repatriation, till October 31, according to figures made available by the missions. The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi issued 291 ECs from May 1 till October 31, while the Indian Consulate in Dubai issued 1,746 ECs during the same period. While all those who were repatriated from May 18 have benefitted from residency fine waiver announced by the UAE, Indian missions also issued 541 ECs free of cost from September 1 till October 31.

The consulate said it had processed 525 ECs since the launch of the scheme on a gratis basis, while the embassy processed another 16.

“Issuance of Emergency Certificate on gratis basis has now been extended till December 20, 2020, in line with the visa fine waiver (Amnesty) scheme announced by the UAE authorities,” the Indian Consulate in Dubai said in a tweet on Tuesday evening. The mission also shared an advisory issued by the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi that listed the guidelines for applying for ECs under the gratis-based scheme.

Extension of free ECs

The Indian missions had announced the free EC scheme for two months to encourage undocumented Indians to leave the UAE by making use of the residency visa fine waiver previously announced till November 17. The UAE government on Tuesday extended the validity of visa fine waiver scheme till December 31, 2020, for foreign nationals whose visas expired before March 1, 2020.

Welcoming the move, Pavan Kapoor, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News that the Indian missions would also extend the scheme to issue ECs for free in line with the visa fine waiver. “We welcome this announcement [by the UAE government] and call upon all Indian nationals falling in this category, to validate their travel documents and utilise this opportunity to return home. We will also extend the special scheme for EC,” he said on Tuesday.

Pavan Kapoor

Details of EC fee waivers

Under the special drive for issuing free ECs, application fee for ECs (Dh60), Indian Community Welfare Fund charges (Dh8) and service fee of BLS International (Dh9), the outsourced agency that processes such applications were waived off for applicants who did not have the means to pay these fees, the Indian Consulate in Dubai said in a statement to Gulf News.

“This initiative was a special drive for issuing EC to distressed Indians who were not in possession of their valid passports due to various reasons and the Embassy or the Consulate was assisting them by providing them with EC on a gratis basis wherever applicable to enable them to travel back to India,” the consulate said.

It said BLS International supported the special drive for ECs by waiving the BLS service fee for the period of the scheme.

“Apart from the waiver of above charges (if applicable), should any applicant so desire, services from BLS for form filling, photograph preparation and SMS were provided to them at a total cost not exceeding Dh25. These services were optional in nature,” the consulate stated. In normal cases, these services would cost Dh67 in total.

Have all of them left?

The Indian missions also said they were assisting all Indian nationals who did not have valid travel documents by providing them with ECs to enable them to travel back to India during the pandemic. “However, it must be noted that after obtaining the EC, applicants were required to visit respective immigration offices for visa cancellation and completion of their exit formalities,” the consulate stated, indicating that only those who complete all the formalities with the UAE authorities can fly home.

The need to complete the exit formalities through local immigration departments was mentioned in the September 1 advisory on free ECs issued by the missions. “It was also included in the undertaking that all applicants availing this scheme were made to sign at the BLS centre, while applying for EC,” the consulate said.

The missions also clarified that they did not receive information about Indians with valid passports, who might have availed the visa fine waiver facility since they could directly go to the immigration authorities for processing their exit formalities.

Non-emergency travel picking up

However, the missions had launched another initiative through which the details of Indians seeking the visa fine waiver were collected and passed on to the UAE immigration departments. Several hundreds of Indians had applied under this scheme as well.

With non-emergency travel from the UAE to India during COVID-19 pandemic picking up drastically, the number of passengers who have travelled since May 7 reached 633,000, according to figures released by the Indian missions on November 1. Meanwhile, more than 220,000 passengers flew to the UAE from India from July 12 till October 31, the missions had told Gulf News.

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As many as 635,000 Indians here had registered for repatriation ever since the Indian missions opened an e-registration service on April 29 for Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), dubbed to be India’s largest repatriation mission. However, several people, who had registered, had changed their minds after offices reopened and economic activities resumed in the UAE.