Abu Dhabi: The UAE Government’s landmark initiative to grant amnesty to residency law violators kicks off today, offering reprieve to thousands of illegal residents.
Here's our coverage from the ground as it happens.
11am: Only one Indian amnesty seeker turned up at the BLS International Centre in Abu Dhabi, the Indian Embassy’s outsourced agency for consular services. “Only one person applied for emergency certificate as of 10.45am,” a senior Indian Embassy official told Gulf News.
He said it may not be an indicator of the number of Indian residency law violators. “ It is just the first day. It is too early to talk about the trend,” he said.
The official said the embassy and community organisations have intensified the awareness campaigns about the amnesty. Several community organisations have opened help desks in their premises. Therefore, many amnesty seekers may come forward in the coming days, the official said.
10.47am: Indian workers and housemaids who had previously taken outpasses from their consulate were the first to arrive at the main BLS Centre in Al Khaleej Centre in Dubai. The workers, mainly from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, said they could not fly home with the outpasses as they had to pay fines for visa violations.
“Then we heard about the amnesty and decided to wait till today. But when we went to Al Aweer amnesty centre in the morning we were told to renew the outpass as it is valid only till tomorrow,” said Swami S, who came along with three of his former coworkers.
Lakshmi Devi Reddy, a housemaid who ran away from her employer two years ago allegedly because she wasn’t allowed to talk to her family more than once a month, said the outpass she had got earlier expired in June.
“I got it extended for one more month. I had also paid all the fines. But I couldn’t go as I didn’t get police clearance. I think my sponsor has filed a case against me. I need to apply again and get the case cleared if it is there. I really hope that I can go home without any more fines.”
10.34am: The Nepalese Embassy in Abu Dhabi has not received any amnesty seekers as of 10.30am, a top official told Gulf News.
“Probably it is because of the first day...” said Sagar Prasad Phuyal, chargé d’affaires at the embassy.
Asked whether the number of residency law violators is very low among Nepalese, he said: “It is too early to say that. We have been receiving many telephone enquiries. We can know the trend in the coming days,” Phuyal said.
Meet the first Indian to get amnesty: Girraj Prasad
The first undocumented Indian to avail of the UAE amnesty from the Al Aweer amnesty centre in Dubai has hailed the reprieve given to visa overstayers. Girraj Prasad, 54, from the state of Rajasthan, is the first Indian who cleared all the procedures to get exemptions from fines to leave the country without a ban. Speaking to Gulf News, Prasad, who worked as a tile cutter, said he became become illegal only because his company had not renewed his visa even after making him do the medical tests for it.
“They kept me waiting for months since January. Finally I filed a labour complaint. After that the company paid the pending salaries for two months and gave me a ticket to go home without fines during amnesty.” Prasad, who has three children including a daughter, said he will be flying home on August 12. “I had visited them last June. But I’m happy to see them, my wife and parents again after this ordeal.” He said he was happy that he didn’t have to pay fines for overstaying. “This is a big help for people like me. I’m so thankful to the government for this gesture.” He said he would love to come back on another visa to work again in the UAE. “My salary was Dh1,500. That was the main income for my family. Definitely I want to come back and work here.”
10.17am: The Sri Lankan Embassy in Abu Dhabi received only three amnesty seekers as of 10am, a senior official told Gulf News. Probably the number of Sri Lankans, who have violated residency laws, could be very low. However, we don’t want to make any conclusion at this stage,” said ASK Senavirathna, Deputy Head of the Mission.
He said the embassy would intensify the awareness campaign in the Sri Lankan community in Abu Dhabi to encourage people to utilise amnesty.
10.11am: Sara Dereje, 25, from Ethiopia, obtained an outpass on the first day of amnesty. She is grateful to the UAE government for their help. She's finally going home after not seeing her family for two years. "Thank you UAE. Thanks to our new government. I'm finally going home," Dereje told Gulf News.
10.10am: Live with Client Happiness Director of Amer Centres, Major Salem Mohammad Bin Ali.
10.07am: Many of the amnesty seekers at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Abu Dhabi have come for passport renewal as they have got a job offer. “ We also encourage others to utilise the six-month visa offered by the UAE Government,” Armanulla Chaudhuri, Labour Counsellor at the embassy told Gulf News. As the UAE Government has given a good opportunity for the residency law violators to stay back and find new jobs, the embassy has been raising awareness about this .
Chaudhuri said he is visiting the Amnesty Centre set up by UAE Authorities in Al Ain today . “We will see what embassy can do to support our nationals visiting the Amnesty Centres in Al Ain and Al Gharbia.” The embassy will look into the possibility of opening help desks. As many farms in Al Ain and Al Gharbia employ Bangladeshi farm workers, there may be many amnesty seekers among them, he said. “We will extend all possible support to them,” Chaudhuri said.
9.55am: The BLS office in Al Khaleej Centre is receiving visa overstaying applications from Indian workers including housemaids who wish to go back home without paying fines.
9.49am: The Bangladeshi Embassy is also receiving a good number of amnesty seekers. “On normal days, we used to receive around 500 people a day for consular matters like passport renewal. Today morning we have witnessed a 25 per cent increase in number of visitors, who are amnesty seekers,” Mohammad Imran, the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News.
9.42am: Abdul Kareem Hamid (below), from the Ethiopian Consulate, answers queries. He says they will advise those who need guidance regarding the amnesty procedures.
9.40am: Philippine Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes is at the Al Aweer Amnesty Tent to assure the amnesty seekers that the Philippine government will pay for the outpass and air tickets to the Philippines for those choosing to go home.
9.39am: A large number of amnesty seekers have turned up at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The embassy has made all arrangements to facilitate the applicants, Rowena Pangilinan Daquipil, chargé d’affaires at the Embassy, told Gulf News.
9.35am: At the Indonesian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, around 30 people have turned up within half an hour of opening the amnesty counter. “ Being the first day, it is a very good turn out,” Januar Nasrun, Consul at the embassy, told Gulf News.
He said the embassy is using all channels to encourage residency law violators to come forward and approach the embassy.
9.15am: We are live with Brigadier General Khalaf Al Ghaith, the assistant director general of the violators and foreigners follow-up section at the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs.
9.13am: Indian missions propose to waive outpass fee for amnesty seekers.
The Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul, told Gulf News the Indian missions in the UAE have proposed to waive off the fees for outpass for amnesty seekers. “We are just waiting for the official approvals,” he said at 9am on Wednesday. The fee for outpass for Indians (officially known as emergency certificate) is Dh60.
However, he said the applicants will have to pay Dh9 service fee to the BLS International centres where applications are accepted and despatched.
Indian Consul Prem Chand and Assistant Consul Reena Chauhan are attending to some inquiries from amnesty seekers in Al Aweer immigration centre.
9am: And things are getting under way. Antonette Peralta, from the Philippine Consulate, distributes travel documents to 18 amnesty seekers who have decided to go home.
They are also preparing their air tickets.
8.55am: Prem Chand, Consul for Passport, Attestation and Community Affairs and Welfare who is the nodal officer for amnesty, told Gulf News that it will take one day for applicants to receive their outpass from the consulate once they submit their applications with proper documents at BLS centres.
8.46am: To ensure smooth transition, BLS has set up a special counter for UAE Amnesty 2018; counter number 9 in Al Khaleej Centre, Dubai.
8.39am: Officials guide amnesty seekers at Al Aweer centre in Dubai.
8.30am: At the BLS International office in Al Khaleej Center, Dubai, no applicant for amnesty has asked for an emergency certificate (outpass) from the Indian Consulate yet. But there do appear to be plenty of questions for the authorities.
The officers on-site are trying to accommodate all queries through.
7.58am: Counters reserved for consulates have yet to be filled with personnel.
7.46am: The women's lounge at Al Aweer centre welcomes its first visitors.
In the women's lounge, the first amnesty-seeker who got the first token, a Chinese national, arrived at around 5.40am. She said she has been overstaying in the UAE for the past two years and would like to go home for good.
Officials reiterated that amnesty seekers who want to legalise their residency status have to go to Amer or Tasheel centres and not Al Aweer.
Many early bird amnesty seekers thought they could do it in Al Aweer. Officials said the Al Aweer tents are only to facilitate those who want to go home.
7.35am: Tick-tock, who's next? The lines are beginning to form at Dubai's Al Aweer centre.
7.29am: The process has begun earlier than expected this morning.
The initiative is historic, as the government has announced many options to the amnesty seekers, which were never available during the amnesty periods in the past.
Brigadier Saeed Rakan Al Rashidi, director of Residency Affairs at the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, said: “This is a great opportunity for illegal residents to rectify their status legally or leave the country without paying fines.”
Although overstayers who find a new job were always allowed to regularise their status, absconders among them had to leave the country with an entry ban.
However, this amnesty offers a golden opportunity for absconders to get their absconding cases removed from the system and move to new visas, if they get job offers.
This reprieve is extended to even former residents who left the country with a ban. No other amnesty in the past offered any benefit to former residents.
They can apply for any type of new visa [tourist/visit/resident/ investor] through normal channels during the amnesty period, although each application will be considered on a case-to-case basis.
Those who do not have any pending legal cases against them and were never convicted of serious crimes in the UAE may be considered.
Amnesty seekers, who wanted to stay back in the country but could not find a new job, had no other option in the past but leave the country. But this year, the government has announced a generous scheme to give them a six-month temporary visa that will help their job hunt.
During the past amnesty periods, there were reports about people who had been overstaying for many years without utilising the previous amnesty scheme. Most of them said they did not utilise the amnesty as they were not in a position to leave the country but they could not find a new job during the amnesty period. This time, the six-month visa may give a lifeline to such people who want to stay back further and try to start a new life.
This amnesty offers new opportunity for infiltrators as well. Those who entered the UAE without a visa were able to leave the country without facing any punitive actions such as imprisonment and fines during the previous amnesty periods but they were never allowed to come back. However, this time such people can come back after two years.
- Our team Janice Ponce De Leon, Anwar Ahmad, Binsal Abdul Kader, Ali Al Shouk, Sajila Saseendran, Ahmad Ramzan, Clint Egbert, Atiq ur Rehman, Abdul Rahman, Logan Fish, Evangeline Jose and Falah Gulzar are reporting from across the Emirates.