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New UAE-Oman Visa System Targets Migrants

On October 25, 2013

Thousands of migrants working in the emirate of Al-Ain commute from Oman because of the cheaper housing; a two-bedroom apartment in Oman's Buraimi area costs an average of Dh 12,000 per year while a comparable space in al-Ain costs three times as much - an average Dh 40,000 per year.

But the recent approval of  a new visa system  targets the mobility and housing choices of migrant workers by imposing unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles and fees. UAE 24/7 quoted an local Omani newspaper:

Non-GCC expatriates wishing to cross the border into the UAE at Hili outlet near Buraimi are now required to have a visa stamped on their passports for Dh35 while those traveling to Oman will have to pay OR5 (Dh50).

Migrant families were given only an arbitrary three day period to find houses for rent in Al Ain before being blocked out by the new visa system.

Throughout the Gulf, migrant workers are increasingly targeted by new regulations and financial barriers. These new fees represent in part, efforts to "recuperate" remittances - which some officials wrongly accuse of siphoning the country's resources - as well as efforts to reduce migrant populations. For example, last August the UAE passed legislation that forces migrant workers to pay Dh 500 yearly for health cards or face additional fines. Earlier this year, Kuwait targeted migrants' housing by raiding private homes to determine if unmarried migrant workers have illegally rented rooms. Kuwaiti legislators also announced plans to tax migrants' salaries in order to discourage population growth and to further profit from often already very low wages. Kuwait's official data has recently indicated that 2/3 of migrant workers are paid less than KD 180 (637 US dollars) per month, a number skewed by high-income expatriate workers).

These discriminatory laws further exploit migrant workers for public and private profit, with no consideration in particular for the livelihoods of low-income workers. Furthermore, mounting regulations are often counterproductive as they push migrants into the informal sector.