Rogue recruitment agents and unscrupulous employers are luring people to the UAE with false promises of jobs and big salaries, only to leave them with mounting debt and no documentation to stay in the country, experts have said.
The UAE has sought to address concerns over residency status over the years, with visa amnesties held in 2007, 2013 and 2018 as hundreds of thousands come forward in an effort to confirm their residence in the Emirates.
The issue was back in the spotlight last month when a visa information event held by the Dubai government had to be closed early due to an unexpectedly large turnout.
The awareness scheme, titled “A Home For All”, was scheduled to run for three days at City Centre Deira but closed by 1pm on its opening day after the venue reached capacity.
A senior official from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in Dubai said authorities were keen to help people find solutions to resolve overstay cases.
‘I want to start afresh’
Mujib Rehman, a Bangladeshi on a lapsed visa, was among the hundreds who turned up for the event in the hope of securing a lifeline.
“I do not even know how much fine I have to pay as an overstay penalty. But I do want to find a new job and start afresh”, Mr Rehman told The National.
He said he came to the country in 2019 and secured a job at a construction firm in Ras Al Khaimah.
“My employer was facing some financial issues and he was unable to pay salaries. He left the country after cancelling my visa in early 2020.”
Rehman said although he managed to stay in the country for a few months on visit visas, he could not find a new job.
He said he has been taking part-time work to make ends meet.
“Going back to Bangladesh is not an option now. I hope authorities will waive off the overstay fine and help me stay in the UAE.”
Debt-riddled families on expired visas
Bindu Suresh Chettur, a lawyer who has been offering free legal services to Indians over the last two decades, said people overstay their visas for various reasons.
“Debt is one major factor”, said Ms Chettur, who works with Pravasi Baharatiya Sahay Kendra, a welfare initiative by the government of India to address the problems of Indian citizens abroad, which is led by the Indian Consulate.
“I know people whose fortunes took a turn for the worse after they invested in a new business venture that failed. They are forced to live on loans and credit cards and the debt spirals out of control in no time.”
Ms Chettur said she knows families who are struggling financially as they try to renew their visas.
“They end up living in the country on expired documents and accumulate huge fines over time. As the fines shoot up daily, they lose all hope of ever coming out clean.”
There is a fine of Dh50 per day for tourists who overstay their visit. The same penalty applies to residency permit holders who live in the country beyond their visa period.
Cheated by recruiting agents
Ms Chettur said the majority of illegal residents are jobseekers, who come to the country through recruiting agents, hoping for a better life for themselves and their families.
“There are many people who are stuck in the country after they got cheated by bogus recruiting agents.
“They are lured with promises of jobs and big salaries and pay exorbitant amounts of money. But seldom do they realise that the agents have brought them into the country on visit visas and not job visas. Once they land in the country, the agents disappear, switch off their phones and leave these hapless young men and women stranded.
“Another scenario that I often deal with is unscrupulous employees recruiting people on visit visa, which is against the rule of the country, and later refusing to give them residency status.”
Overstaying job seekers
Many jobseekers, often from countries in Asia and Africa, travel to the UAE on tourist visas in search of employment.
Travel agents have recently told The National about the rising number of overstay cases, where their clients have refused to leave the country after their visa period expires.
The National spoke to a young Ugandan visitor who is still in the country after his visa expired last month.
Michael, 28, who only gave his first name, said he has been unable to find a job so far.
“I am a commerce graduate and have experience in accounting. I have applied for so many jobs and I am still not getting any interview calls.”
When asked whether he will return to his home country, Michael said it was not a choice at all. “I cannot think about it. My brothers lent me money to buy a ticket and visa. I have to somehow stay in the UAE. There are opportunities, I just have to be patient”, he said.
Bijender Sing, an officer with the Consulate General of India in Dubai, said it was crucial for people to ensure they are applying for a suitable work visa, not a tourist visa.
He said an employee is not eligible to file any complaints with authorities in the UAE if they are on a visit visa.
Awareness is key
Pakistan’s Consul General, Hassan Afzal Khan, told The National that vast employment and business opportunities continue to attract a large number of Pakistani citizens to the UAE.
“Currently, we have more than 1.6 million Pakistan nationals in UAE that makes them the second largest community in the UAE”, said Mr Khan.
“It is our top priority to educate our community in the UAE regarding relevant visa rules and regulations. We have been doing that using different platforms, including our online khuli kacheri — a monthly public meeting to listen, address and educate our participating community members on these matters.
“We also educate them through our social media accounts and community groups. Among the most important topic is awareness on UAE visa rules”, he said.
He urged Pakistanis to apply for a jobseeker visit visa if they intend to explore job or business opportunities in the UAE.
“It is illegal to work in the UAE with or without pay while being on a visit or tourist visa. On getting a job, one must get a work permit and re-enter for employment.”
Report by The National