Dubai: What was meant to be a tropical holiday has turned into a nightmare for several UAE residents who are currently stranded in Bali owing to travel restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Residents of various nationalities reached out to Gulf News narrating their struggles of having to pay for their house rent, utility, phone and internet connection in absentia in the UAE while also having to simultaneously pay for their accommodation and food expenses in Bali, Indonesia.
Although many of those stranded are managing to work remotely, they are worried for their jobs if this uncertainty persists. Small business owners are struggling, with no work being commissioned, yet having to pay rent for their house and office space. Others have even been laid off from their jobs while in Bali.
Got the pink slip in Bali
Lana Shevchenko, a Ukrainian who has been a UAE resident for a year, visited Bali on March 15 for a two-week business trip. However, the events industry professional received the pink slip from her company as soon as she arrived in Bali.
With Ukraine also closing its territory, Shevchenko’s only option was to spend time in Bali until the borders reopened and fly to Dubai where she had rented an apartment for which she was still paying rent, had her personal belongings and friends.
“I planned to stay here only for two weeks, so I’m running out of money and using my credit card now. I’m still waiting for my last salary. To save money, I initially stayed in a cheap hostel, but now I’m sharing a villa. I’m cooking at home and buying fruits and vegetables from local people instead of shops,” she told Gulf News.
Shevchenko knows it will not be easy to find a job during a global crisis. But she is using her time in Bali to learn painting and help a charity. She is actively looking for jobs and has already attended an interview.
“I tried registering with Twajudi as soon as it was announced, but several times it showed errors in my application. Finally, I have managed to register successfully and currently the status is being shown as 'under process',” she said.
Natalya Afanasyeva, an expat from Kazakhstan who works in Dubai with Chalhoub Group as a commercial executive, has been stuck in Bali since March 11. A ten-day vacation has now extended into several months with no clarity on when it will end.
“I am still paying my house rent, car loan, Dewa, phone and internet bills back in Dubai plus all my expenses in Bali. Although we are not living in Dubai and using these services, we are still receiving bills to pay. I cannot stay in Bali any more since I don’t have enough money to pay for my second accommodation and food expenses,” she told Gulf News.
In the first month in Bali, Afanasyeva and her friend rented a home for $1,300 (Dh4,774) a month and paid $650 for food (Dh2,400). She changed houses on a weekly basis in the first month, hoping the situation would change and she would be able to fly back. In April, she paid more than $1,000 (Dh3,672) for a rented house in Bali while in May, she is paying $650 (Dh2,400). She also needs to set aside Dh3,000 for her monthly house rent in Dubai.
The Kazakhi expat who has been living in Dubai for 12 years said her employer has been paying her the full salary without any deduction so far. “My employer is doing everything to support me but if the situation deteriorates further, I might have to face unpaid leave or a salary cut,” Afanasyeva added.
Waiting for Twajudi approval for weeks
Although Afanasyeva has tried filling up the Twajudi form on the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation website several times, there has been no response and she is waiting to get an approval before booking a ticket on Etihad’s flight from Jakarta to the UAE on May 29. “A one-way air ticket from Jakarta to Abu Dhabi costs almost Dh4,000,” she pointed out.
Several stranded expats claim that the UAE government is prioritising only teachers, medical staff, children separated from parents and college students who have been ousted from university accommodation to return to the UAE.
Caught in transit
C.M., an American analyst, travelled to Bali alone in March since her UAE residence visa had expired and she wanted to re-enter the country on a tourist visa. However, with the country closing its borders on March 19, she has been stranded in the Indonesian resort town. She has attended several virtual interviews and was on the verge of signing a new job offer. However, the employer is not open to her starting work remotely.
“The experience has been extremely stressful. I left the UAE with the intention to return in seven days. My apartment, belongings and bank accounts are all in Dubai. I am being forced to cancel my apartment, give up my DEWA account and close my phone since the expenses add up. I have to support myself in another country without knowing how long this will go on for. I don’t appreciate my life being put on hold and my career being interrupted,” C.M. told Gulf News.
The American expat is frustrated with the lack of transparency in how Twajudi approvals are being given. She has received no responses from the UAE Embassy in Jakarta or the Amer services. She has also contacted the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the American Consulate in Dubai, the American Consulate in Bali and the American Embassy in Jakarta. “Not having information in terms of what to do and how long I may be stuck here is unnerving. The American Embassy has offered to fly me back home to the US at my own expense. The number of coronavirus cases are rising in the US. I don’t feel safe returning there and I don’t have health insurance in the US. My parents are old and are considered a high-risk group. So, I don’t want to travel across the world and put them at risk. I might as well stay where I am,” she explained.
The expat, who has lived in the UAE for three-and-a-half years, has some money saved to meet these unforeseen expenses. She also secured some freelance work with a Dubai company.
With the Bali tourism industry in limbo, a lot of businesses are offering discounted accommodation and scooter rentals. However, stranded tourists are renting accommodation and transportation only on a two-week basis. “They can negotiate a much better price for a month as opposed to two weeks. But because we have no idea about when we might return, we are spending more money than necessary. There should be a systemised approach to repatriating residents stranded abroad,” C.M. explained.
Shervan Soogrim and Chenelle Chattergoon, both citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, arrived in Bali for their honeymoon on March 14 and are now stranded for two months. Soogrim has been a UAE resident for four years and works in the health and safety division of a maritime company in Dubai.
“I am able to work remotely and get my salary. Thankfully, I brought my personal laptop during the holiday. I am not guaranteed any job security. While most of my managers are supportive of my situation, some are not as understanding of how it is to get work done around here,” Soogrim said.
Accommodation is the family’s biggest expense in Bali. The couple paid Dh7,500 for their accommodation in April and Dh3,500 on food and groceries. In May, the couple moved to another place for Dh3,800 and paid Dh2,000 on food expenses.
“I am using my basic salary to cover food, transport and accommodation costs in Bali. There is no saving,” Soogrim told Gulf News.
The original plan was for Chanelle to fly back to Dubai after the honeymoon on a 90-day tourist visa. However, in the current situation, even if the UAE opens its borders for residents, Soogrim’s wife cannot fly back with him. “Trinidad borders are also closed and all flights stand cancelled,” he added.
Stuck in Turkey
Ryan Pyle, a Canadian national, is a film and television host in Dubai with an office in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT). A UAE resident since 2018, Pyle has been stuck in Istanbul, Turkey, for eight weeks now.
He was filming for a TV series in Ethiopia when the UAE closed its borders on March 19. “I could have gone back to Canada, but wanted to stay in the Middle East where I could keep working in the same time zone as my main partners. I landed in Turkey because it was one of the few places I could travel to,” Pyle explained.
He is not at risk of losing his job, but admits to his company being in a terrible financial shape. “The experience has been expensive. I was in a hotel in Istanbul for the first six weeks. Now, I have rented an apartment because this is looking like it will last much longer. The UAE has still not offered low-interest or zero-interest loans through financial institutions to small businesses like mine. I am still paying rent for my office in JLT. I have not received a rent holiday from my landlord,” he pointed out.
Pyle said that small businesses were getting crushed in the lockdown. No one is commissioning new film and television work, he added.
“I am not interested in a repatriation flight. I will come back when Dubai and Emirates get back to working properly,” he added.