Anne (centre) with Fr Lennie J. A. Connully from St Mary’s Catholic Church Dubai and social worker Susan Jose. The church’s Samaritan Ministry helped Anne apply for a fine waiver. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: If not for sheer determination, help from those who care and the generosity of the UAE government, Anne from Philippines and Liyan from India (names changed upon request) would still be living illegally inside the country.

Although neither were jailed, both experienced the difficulty of not having full freedom due to the lack of a valid residency visa.

Despite there being no amnesty on at the moment, both have had their statuses legalised after overstay fines were reduced into more manageable amounts just in time for Eid. Here we bring you their stories of new beginnings after years of hardship.

Employer fled the UAE

In 2016, Anne, a mother of four, decided not to renew her two-year labour contract that was ending in March. A month before her contract ended, she informed her employer about her decision who graciously agreed.

“She was planning to sell her salon anyway. So she told me to go to the Ministry of Human Rights and Emiratisation in March so she could give me my final pay and gratuity,” Anne, 43, a beautician, told Gulf News.

The agreed date came, but there was no word from her employer. The case dragged on and her employer remained a no-show. The court ruled in Anne’s favour and ordered her employer to pay her a sum of Dh10,553.

“My employer sold the salon to a new owner so I knew she had money to settle her dues with me. But she never did. Last I heard she fled the UAE.”

Without a visa since 2016, Anne could not work. Every time she looked for a job, new employers would not hire her thinking they could not get a visa for her because of the court verdict.

Dh 60,000

in overstay fines for Anne

“So when I found a new employer who wanted to hire me, I was advised by a government clerk to withdraw the case so my new employer could apply a visa for me. When I did withdraw the case in July, automatically, my overstay fines of about Dh60,000 appeared in the system,” Anne explained.

“It was a big mistake. I shouldn’t have withdrawn the case because I could have legally acquired a residence visa because my case was closed. I already had a verdict. I was misguided.”

Through the help of social workers from the Samaritan Ministry of the St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, Anne was guided to go to Al Aweer to apply for a waiver of her overstay fine.

“God bless the kind officers at the Aweer Immigration and Dubai Court who have been extremely supportive to the humanitarian activities of our Parish. As it was a terribly humid day and the computer system was down they even offered us refreshments and made us feel comfortable. Dubai is truly the city that cares,” Susan Jose, a social worker from the Samaritan Ministry, told Gulf News.

An investigation was done and finally, Anne’s overstay fines were waived.

Dh 1,020

is the amount Anne ended up paying

Anne said with a smile: “I ended up paying Dh1,020 only. I thank the UAE government and St Mary’s Church for helping me. I was barely surviving from 2016. I couldn’t work properly. But I am grateful that now I can move on and start anew. I am very happy.”

Father Lennie Connully, the parish priest at St Mary’s, expressed his gratitude towards the government’s generosity.

“Since its inception, the Samaritan Ministry has been helping over 150 nationalities who reside in the UAE along with its community partners and stakeholders. The UAE government has been very supportive of our work and without their assistance we could have done very little. Keeping with the spirit of tolerance, we are grateful to the compassion shown to Anne and for helping with her documents so that she could continue to work in UAE and support her family in Philippines,” Father Connully told Gulf News.

‘It’s like a new year, a new beginning for us’

Indian expatriate Liyan tried to get her visa status rectified during the five-month amnesty in the UAE last year. She had been staying illegally in the country since 2017. However, because of a miscommunication and financial problems, they couldn’t push through with the process until the amnesty ended.

Liyan’s ordeal started in 2017 when her husband lost his job.

“He was diagnosed with shingles and was advised to take one month bed rest. Because he lost his job, he racked up a credit card debt of around Dh15,000. As soon as the final settlement came in, the banks took all the money,” Liyan, 32, told Gulf News.

Liyan was on her husband’s visa initially. But because he lost his job, Liyan had to exit the country and re-enter on a three-month visit visa to be able to take care of her sick husband. Eventually, their money ran out forcing her to stay in the country illegally.

“I was taking care of him. I had to stay and that’s when it snowballed and the overstay fine ballooned,” she explained.

“My husband found a job almost after two months. But it was not as good as the other one. We barely survived. I couldn’t get a job because we couldn’t pay for my overstay fines.”

Liyan said they tried to apply for a residence visa twice but could not complete the process due to a lack of funds.

Dh 65,000

in overstay fines for Liyan

One and a half months ago, however, Liyan’s father was diagnosed with cancer in India, and, desperate to go and see him, Liyan began looking for other options in order to be able to go home.

She sought the help of Attorney Barney Almazar and his team at Gulf Law and they applied for a review of her case three weeks ago, hoping to get leniency.

“I received an SMS saying my application has been reviewed. And then I was informed that my overstay fines have been reduced from Dh65,000 to Dh5,065,” she said.

“When I saw the message, I was on the brink of crying. I could finally fly home to be with my father for his treatment. I told him I’d be there on August 13 after Eid Al Adha and he was very happy. All he could say was, ‘Come home soon’.”

Liyan completed the payment and got her visa stamped last week.

“I was so happy. I was moments away from dancing. I’m so, so grateful. As far as I know, most governments don’t do this. It’s like a new year, a new beginning for us,” Liyan said.

Lawyer’s advice

Attorney Almazar explained that illegal residents can apply for a waiver of fines on their own. They only need to understand the laws and procedures involved.

“There is no need to wait for the next amnesty period. You can always ask for waiver or reduction of overstay fines. The legal process may be confusing and most find themselves in a chicken and egg situation,” Almazar told Gulf News.

“If you have a civil or police case, you should clear it first before proceeding with the application for waiver of immigration fines. If you intend to stay in the country, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and you have a recent employment offer letter or available visa sponsor for a smooth application process.”