cover image

Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

Pardoning Visa Violators in the Year of Zayed

The extensive amnesty scheme for illegal immigrants and overstayers has impacted thousands in the months since its establishment.

Nov 10, 2018

While the weeks preceding National Day have often been a time of forgiveness and gratitude in the UAE, with 50 percent discounts being offered on traffic fines in previous years, in 2018 — the Year of Zayed — this sentiment has been extended significantly. In July, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship announced a comprehensive amnesty program for visa violators, to assist overstayers and illegal immigrants, and grant residence visas to those from war-torn countries.
The Protect Yourself by Modifying Your Status scheme follows from a visa initiative established in 2013, when over 60,000 violators took advantage of a 60-day amnesty period. In 2007, almost 350,000 were granted amnesty under a similar program. “This is a great opportunity for illegal residents to avail the facility of rectifying their status legally during the amnesty period or leave the country without paying fines,” said Brigadier Saeed Rakan Al Rashedi, Director of Residency Affairs at FAIC, in an interview with Gulf News. Al Rashedi added that the system hopes to raise the productivity of the national economy and reinforce the UAE’s moral value system. The UAE government had been in close communication with the UNHCR in relation to the decision to implement the latest amnesty policy. “The UAE Cabinet’s decision is a great example of solidarity in support of the displaced, continuing within the spirit and the values of His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan,” said Toby Harward, Head of Office of the UNHCR in the UAE, to Gulf News.
The amnesty process dictates that those who entered the country illegally or overstayed existing visas will be allowed to leave the UAE without fines if they come forward voluntarily. These measures hope to benefit the UAE’s blue-collar labor force, comprising six million of the UAE’s total population of 9 million in 2016. The first undocumented immigrants were granted outpass on Aug. 1, the first day of the program, and included Girraj Prasad, an Indian tile-cutter whose company failed to renew his residency earlier this year, and Lucia T., from the Philippines, who decided to leave the UAE to attend her mother’s burial rather than stay to legalize her status. Additionally, UAE Amnesty 2018 marks the first time that amnesty seekers will be offered a temporary visa to find work. The six-month visa will be offered to those who entered the UAE legally, and have not yet found a job or sponsor; the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation also proposed a portal to assist applicants in their job hunt.
“I am looking to get my case cleared and obtain the temporary visa for six months to get a job. I like living in the UAE and my wife is here too; I don’t want to go back,” said Rolando Dave Bobier, whose employer had filed an absconding report after he traveled home for his grandmother’s funeral, in an interview with Gulf News. He has not visited home since the case was filed. For amnesty seekers who entered the country illegally, exit permits will be issued for a 220 AED fee, but a two-year entry ban will be placed. People who have been blacklisted or are facing legal cases are not eligible for amnesty.
Since the start of the scheme on Aug. 1, tens of thousands of amnesty seekers have been estimated to have applied. The Bangladeshi Embassy received over 12,000 requests for new passports from those hoping to receive a temporary visa, and other embassies reported similar figures. “In Dubai, we issued 3,332 emergency exit passes and 1,638 short validity passports for those who wanted to make use of the six-month temporary visa," said Navdeep Singh Suri, Indian ambassador to the UAE, to the Khaleej Times in October. By November, 7,500 Philippine citizens had been granted amnesty, of which over half had chosen to remain in the UAE legally. The Philippine government released 7.8 million AED from the Philippine Assistance to Nationals Fund to pay for airfare, exit permit fees and resolving absconding cases.
The immense popularity of the initiative and flood of applications resulted in the deadline being pushed back one month to Dec. 1. The nine established centers and local embassies and consulates have witnessed unrelenting demand, enabling those who have yet to receive new passports or resolve legal cases to potentially still take part in the program. The National, for instance, has reported on several amnesty seekers that remain in a legal gray area and spent hundreds of dirhams on trips to immigration centers. Tassia Falcerose, who has resided illegally in the UAE since 2015, visited two centers in Abu Dhabi over six times, and queued for several hours before being told that her name was not in the system. Extending the amnesty period until December may help similar cases be resolved.
For the majority of applicants, however, the amnesty program offers an opportunity to legalize their status or return home affordably. “When we talk to people who show up asking for an emergency certificate, all they want is to go back home, you can see their desperation,” added Suri. For Prasad, Bobier and thousands with similar stories, the amnesty initiative has only reinforced the graciousness with which the UAE is attempting to treat their residents. “I feel like God has heard my prayers. The government of UAE is making it happen and they have such big hearts. I am thankful to them from the bottom of my heart,” said Bobier.
Priyanka Lakhiani is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
gazelle logo