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| 22 June, 2018

August start for general visa amnesty scheme in UAE

Foreigners violating the residency law will be granted a three-month grace period to either leave the country voluntarily without prosecution.

Cityscape with illuminated skyscrapers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at dusk.

Cityscape with illuminated skyscrapers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at dusk.

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UAE - In a relief for expats whose visas have expired and who are illegally staying back in the UAE, a three-month general visa amnesty by the government from August 1 will help them sort out their status and put their lives together.

Under the scheme called 'Protect Yourself via Rectifying Your Status,' foreigners violating the residency law will be granted a three-month grace period to either leave the country voluntarily without prosecution, or rectify their legal status by paying the required fees. The start date was announced on Thursday through the Arabic Press.

The visa relaxation will lift the fears of over-staying foreigners, reduce the burden on those facing hefty fines, while encouraging illegal expats to make their status legal or voluntarily depart, without incurring a ban. The scheme will end on October 31.

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The general amnesty is not the first humanitarian visa initiative by the UAE government, as more than 60,000 foreigners violating the residency law benefitted from the previous 60-day visa amnesty in 2013. Three others were held in 2007, 2003 and 1996

During the two-month amnesty in 2012-2013, the Ministry of Interior issued 61,826 exit permits to people of different nationalities.

In 2007, 341,958 illegal residents across the UAE benefitted from an amnesty, and of those, 95,259 legalised their labour status and stayed in the country.

Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UAE, Muhammad Imran, praised the decision by the UAE government, and said foreigners without a visa status will no longer face legal consequences.

"We do not have too many illegal residents from Bangladesh. But whoever is staying illegally should make use of the opportunity to obtain legal status or leave the country."

He pointed out that the embassy will make necessary arrangements to quickly process the papers and issue out-passes to those who want to make use of the amnesty.

According to the envoy, nearly 20,000 Bangladeshis benefitted from the amnesty in 2013.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Charitha Yattogoda, Consul General at the Consulate General of Sri Lanka, said his government "welcomes the commendable decisions taken by the leadership of the UAE" to relax the visa procedures in an expatriate-friendly way.

"With these new visa rules in place, job-seekers have ample time to look for jobs in the UAE. The reforms are a win-win situation not only for Sri Lankans but also for large a number of nationalities who reside in the UAE."

While facilitation of easy exits for overstayers would be a very generous and humanitarian move which benefits a number of helpless people, the new one-year visa extension for widows and divorcees will ensure family stability and social cohesion, Yattogoda said.

"These reforms reflect the UAE's global position as a welcoming nation which extends a helping hand to people in need."

Rowena Pangilinan Daquipil, charg d' affaires at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said those working part-time who have overstayed their visas would be wise to come forward now to legalise their stay in the Emirates and then eventually look for appropriate employment.

Sagar Prasad Phuyal, Charge de Affairs at the Nepalese embassy, said the embassy will start making arrangements for their citizens who are staying illegally in the UAE. "It is good news, and I am sure many will be happy to use this opportunity given by the UAE authorities."

An estimated 225,000 Nepalis are living and working in the UAE with large numbers employed in the unskilled and semi-skilled sectors.

Responding to the decision, a spokesperson from the Pakistani Consulate also said the new rules are bound to have a far-reaching impact to ease penal and financial burden on all expatriates, including the Pakistani community in the UAE.

The UAE Cabinet, chaired by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, adopted the resolution earlier this week, which grants foreigners of countries facing war and natural disasters a one-year stay or residency permit to help improve their living conditions, until they can safely return to their home countries.

Furthermore, the period will also coincide with the one-year visa extension given to women who have been widowed or divorced, as well as their children.

The visa extension for widows and divorced women aims to give women the opportunity to adjust their social and economic status.

The UAE Cabinet said the decision takes into consideration the humanitarian conditions of widows and divorcees and facilitates their stay in the UAE after the loss of spouse.

"The decision grants widows and divorced women and their children a one-year residence without the need for a sponsor," the Cabinet said.

"It aims to give women the opportunity to adjust their social and economic status."

The humanitarian visa initiatives are part of the UAE's ongoing efforts to help foreigners in need, as well as supporting some of the world's most vulnerable people, while strengthening the country's position as a second homeland for people from all walks of life.

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