Update: The UAE has extended the amnesty until December 1, 2018.
The UAE’s three-month amnesty for migrants is nearly at its end, and embassies are urging migrants without valid visas to take advantage while they still can.
Overstayers can exit the country without paying fines or facing jail time, or they can regularise their status by getting a new sponsored visa. For the first time, migrants can also apply for a temporary six-month visa in order to search for a job.
As of September 15, over 4,733 migrants had applied for the six-month temporary visa.
Costs & Process
While the amnesty clears overstay fines (normally AED100 per day), there are fees to obtain the exit pass (AED 220) and to change visa status (AED500). Migrants must also shoulder the cost for typing centre fees and transportation to amnesty centres, and submit an air ticket in order to obtain the exit pass. The Philippines embassy is covering all costs for workers, but most embassies are only able to bear these expenses in limited circumstances.
Migrant community organisations often step in to support workers with these costs, as well as to provide support through the application process.
As The National reports, some applicants with straightforward cases have regularised their status or exited the country quickly and easily. But others reported long wait times, being provided incorrect information, and bouncing between different agencies. Not all of the centres were properly informed or prepared to handle applicants when the amnesty began.
The time and money spent travelling to offices can present a significant obstacle for migrants who are likely already facing debts.
One woman working as a maid said that “she has spent so much money paying for travel between centres in Shahama and Tasheel that it would have been cheaper to buy her own flight home.” She also witnessed people collapse in the heat due to long queues.
Not just individuals
Many families and individuals who have fallen on hard times eagerly take advantage of the opportunity to waive visa violation fees that they could otherwise not afford. But, like elsewhere in the GCC, amnesty campaigns are an imperfect response to the faults of the visa sponsorship system itself. While amnesties place the onus of rectifying visa status on migrants, many workers are forced into an irregular status because of their employers. The restrictions on transferring sponsorship mean that workers who want to change jobs are often forced to choose between paying a bribe to their current employer or 'running away,' which automatically renders their status illegal. Additionally, sponsors are legally responsible for renewing employee visas, but negligent employers or those facing financial hardships may fail to do so. The Khaleej Times reported on one company seeking amnesty for over 500 workers, whose cumulative fines amounted to over AED500,000.
While the UAE has not yet released up-to-date figures on the number of amnesty seekers, by early September over 25,000 migrants regularised their status by obtaining new sponsor visas. Additionally, the Filipino embassy reported that over 1,000 Filipinos have been repatriated, while over 3,000 are hoping to remain in the country and more than 12,000 reached out to the embassy for support.
A 24/7 hotline remains available at 80080. For a comprehensive Q & A on the amnesty, please see this report by Khaleej Times or contact your local embassy.