26th July 2018
By Tom Law

Visas Amnesty for Workers in United Arab Emirates

As part of the ILO/EJN fellowship on labour migration Angel L. Tesorero, a reporter for the Khaleej Times, the UAE’s first English daily newspaper, wrote a series of stories on how labour migrants can obtain the mandatory documents required to get working visas in the UAE and the amnesty that ends in August 2018.

Prior to joining the Khaleej Times, Angel was a reporter for Pinoy Weekly in the Philippines. At Khaleej Times, Angel has been covering several beats, including Asian communities, labour and migration, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, and Dubai Immigration.

How a bottle of water started a conversation I won’t forget

30 December 2018 – Angel Tesorero

It was the first day of the UAE amnesty program. As expected, thousands of overstaying expats trooped in to the GDRFA (General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs) office in Al Aweer on August 1.

It was also the middle of summer. There were two huge tents that could accommodate up to 3,000 men and women (in separate tents), but people were also waiting outside, with papers under their arms, wiping sweat with handkerchiefs or towels.

That’s how I met Francisco Pacheco. He approached me asking for directions. I forgot my reply but I was holding a bottle of water and I offered it to him.

Francisco was shy. He took the bottle of water and thanked me. I knew there had to be a story behind this guy in a cap, wearing a black shirt and jeans, carrying a backpack and a transparent envelope that held an obviously worn-out passport.

I asked him about his case. His reply was curt. I only learned that he was 58 years old and came to Dubai in 1991.

He finished the water. It was just a small bottle so I told him to come inside the tent where there were several fridges filled with bottles of water. He took another bottle and we sat down.

I earned his trust and that’s when he told me his story. His troubles began when the company he worked for in Jebel Ali closed down in 2010. Instead of going back to the Philippines, he went on a visa run to Kish Island in Iran and returned to Dubai on a visit visa to search for jobs. No one hired him. But he was still supporting his children who were in college, so he had no choice but to stay in Dubai and find a job.

Our conversation lasted for more than an hour and he shared how he missed his family who he hadn’t seen for more than a decade. When he left the Philippines, he had three kids and now he already had five grandchildren.

Francisco was just one of the many people I spoke to. I interviewed several people that day, overwhelmed by their stories. Many I met have overstayed because they were not able to pay their debts, some lost jobs, others absconded after suffering abuse from their employers. In all these cases, instead of going back home, people opted to stay in the UAE because they felt that back home they may not be able to find suitable work.

I was also waiting for statistics – how many applied for amnesty on the first day, how much fines were waived by the authorities, how many would be repatriated, etc.

But news is not just about the who, what, where, when or how. It is also about telling stories and guiding the readers to connect with your stories.

I called Francisco the following day. He had got his repatriation papers and was finishing packing his things. And after 27 years of living and working in Dubai, he was taking back only clothes and a few belongings, everything that weighed a little over 30kg – that’s like accumulating only 1kg of possessions each year!

He had only a couple of dirhams in his wallet and a small bag of dates and chocolates for his apo (grand kids). He had reconciled to going home broke. But that did not dampen his spirits as he marked the calendar on his wall and encircled August 11 – his date of travel back home to the Philippines to be with his family.

His story got published before he left Dubai. Some readers emailed me and asked for his contact details. One Filipina met him and gave him Dh1,000; one British expat also gave him cash. Staff at a Dubai-based company pooled their money and gave it to him.

Francsico did not go home empty-handed after all, and there was joy in his heart when he called me from the airport the day he left Dubai. I was also happy because I wrote a story that had impact. It had emotion because I lent my ear and allowed room for honesty and vulnerability in my story.

It was not over the top dramatic. Readers were able to connect emotionally. It moved them enough that they generously gifted him cash and other presents.

I reported how the amnesty program benefited thousands of people but I was happy that I did not just state the facts and figures. I focused on a specific person to tell a story and it all began with a small conversation after handing out a bottle of water.

Read the original article here in the Khaleej Times.

UAE amnesty: Dh170k fine waived for Filipina, to finally marry Emirati fiancé

26 August 2018 – Angel Tesorero

A big joyful smile was etched over the face of Filipina expat Yunilyn Liamzon. Not only did she return home after overstaying in the UAE for almost eight years, she left the country on Saturday with her Emirati fiancé to get married in the Philippines.

Clutching her travel documents in one hand and her fiancé’s hand with the other, Liamzon, 40, told Khaleej Times: “Many lives have been changed for the better because of the UAE’s immigration amnesty program. For me, the amnesty has paved the way for my matrimony.”

Liamzon, a resident in Ajman, joined 116 kababayans (compatriots), including eight minors, for the second batch of overstaying Filipinos repatriated by the Philippine Consulate in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

The first batch, composed of 101 Filipinos, flew back home on August 15. The Philippine government footed the bill for their one-way ticket and also paid for their outpass worth Dh221 and another Dh521, if they had an absconding case. They were also given $100 (Dh365) each (excluding the minors) as “humble welfare assistance.” The money was sourced from Philippine Assistance to Nationals fund.

Liamzon said she couldn’t be more happier. “I did not pay a single dirham from my pocket. I’m very thankful to the UAE government for waiving my overstaying penalties and to our (Philippine) government for the free ticket and assistance,” she added.

“My fiancé, who will be paying for his own air fare, and I really want our wedding to happen in the Philippines so that my family can witness it. I also want my husband-to-be to see the beautiful place where I grew up. Our trip back home is like an extended Eid holiday for us,” added Liamzon, a born Muslim who hails from Davao City, the hometown of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

Liamzon, who worked as a beautician, came to the UAE in 2010 on an employment visa. She had legal documents and went through the proper channels such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). She also had a certification from the Philippine Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Unfortunately, the first women’s salon she worked at in Sharjah closed shop in 2011. She then found another employer in Ajman who only made promises but did not process her visa.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Video: 101 overstaying Filipino expats fly home from Dubai

15 August 2018 – Angel Tesorero

They all heaved a sigh of relief. Some of them will no longer play hide-and-seek with authorities; mothers and fathers will be reunited with their children; husbands and wives will once again feel the warm embrace of their spouses; and the young ones will be able to continue with their studies. A sad chapter in their lives has ended and a new and promising one will begin – all these happened after they availed of the UAE’s amnesty program.

A total of 101 overstaying Filipinos, including six minors, flew out of Dubai on Wednesday. They were part of the 277 Filipino expats who were given an exit pass in the first week of the 90-day immigration amnesty programme.

One of them was Joy, 48, an undocumented Filipina expat who lived in Dubai for five years without residence visa. Speaking to Khaleej Times, she said: “I came here (Dubai) in 2012. I was not able to find a suitable job but instead of returning home, I took a risk and worked part-time cleaning homes and babysitting kids to sustain myself and send some money to my family in the Philippines. I had no legal documents and I was aware that what I was doing was illegal.”

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Two overstaying Filipina expats seek amnesty in UAE

30 July 2018 – Angel Tesorero

Two overstaying Filipina expats can’t wait for August 1 to come. For them it will be the dawn of a new day – a chance to reboot their lives and look forward to a better future.

Both of them said that they will be in front of the line for those who will seek general immigration amnesty. One of them is planning of going back home to the Philippines and the other will stay, with a good job already waiting for her.

As soon as she gets an exit pass for herself and her four-month-old baby, Jamila, 26, said she will pack their bags and go back home. Khaleej Times first published Jamila’s story on July 23. Her baby has no passport because her Pakistani husband, who physically and mentally abused her, did not just abandon them but also took all of the baby’s legal documents.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Filipina single mother seeks amnesty after husband abuses, abandons her in UAE

24 July 2018 – Angel Tesorero

More overstaying expats are emerging every day, pinning their hopes on the upcoming amnesty programme not just to rectify their status but also to pick up their lives.

One of them is Jamila, 26, a Filipina who converted to Islam and a mother of a four-month-old baby boy. She has overstayed her visa and could not apply for passport for her baby after her Pakistani husband took all the legal documents and abandoned her. She is seeking a divorce and will apply for amnesty to start her life anew.

“My husband beat me every time. It started after I found out that he was having an affair with a married Pakistani woman while I was pregnant with our baby,” Jamila told Khaleej Times. “Before this illicit affair, my husband tried flirting with a young woman who rejected him.”

“I was really afraid of my husband. He even told me ‘I know where to hurt you that will show no bruises.’ And he always hit me on the head,” she added.

Her husband’s physical abuse and mental torture were not the only ordeals that Jamila had to go through. She was dismissed from work last December, while she was six months pregnant, because her boss told her that her abdomen was already “too big” for her to work.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

UAE amnesty 2018: Missions all prepared to offer help

23 July 2018 – Angel Tesorero

Missions across the country are making sure that citizens staying illegally in the UAE do avail of the three-month visa amnesty scheme starting from August 1.

Indians make up the biggest workforce in the UAE and the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi has shored up support from various community organisations to create awareness about the amnesty programme.

On Monday, the embassy posted an elaborate description of the scheme on its twitter handle. Importantly, the embassy opened up helpdesk, hotline and a dedicated email service.

The hotline number is 050-8995583 and people can also email their queries to [email protected].

Indian Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri asked residents to avail of the scheme at the earliest.

“I sincerely urge all Indian nationals who are in the UAE without valid visas to take advantage of this amnesty. Please contact us or get in touch with us through the local Indian community associations. And do remember that the Indian embassy is your true friend when you are overseas. We are here to help you,” the ambassador told Khaleej Times.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Family stuck in Dubai with no money, visa for 8 years

14 July 2018 – Angel Tesorero

Filipina expat Michelle, 46, used to run a travel and ticketing agency. She sponsored and facilitated visas and tickets for tourists. However, many of her clients absconded; leaving her with heavy immigration penalties.

Her business closed down in 2009 and she has been overstaying since then after incurring huge debts from various banks. A mother of two – 20-year-old and 12-year-old – she now pins her hope on the upcoming amnesty program to legalise her stay, and also of her children, in Dubai.

“I’ve been living here for 23 years,” Michelle shares with Khaleej Times. “I arrived in 1995 and initially worked for six years at an American fast food company. Then I worked in an advertising firm as a secretary, in charge of handling our staff’s visa and travel needs. I learned the tricks of the trade and eventually set up my own travel agency in 2006.”

“I had an office in Karama. Business was great at the start but misfortune began in 2008 when many of my clients – those whom I sponsored for their tourist visa – ran away. They did not leave the country after the expiration of their visa, leaving me high and dry with heavy immigration penalties,” she adds.

According to Michelle, for each absconding client, her immigration cash bond of Dh8,500 was forfeited. “At least 20 clients ran away and that was already a loss of Dh170,000 in 2008 alone,” she explains.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Wife in Dubai hopes to meet ailing husband after 9 years through visa amnesty

5 July 2018 – Angel Tesorero

Filipina expat Esther, 58, is holding a photo of her husband, who she hasn’t seen in person for nine years. Her husband, who will be turning 73 on July 25, has been bedridden after suffering a stroke in October last year. Esther arrived in Dubai in 2009 and could not return to her home in the Philippines in fear of having to settle her huge overstaying fine, which she incurred since 2013.

The only way that Esther can check on her husband’s condition is through Facebook chat, facilitated by her 20-year-old granddaughter in the Philippines.

“My granddaughter sends me photos and regular updates but I fear that my husband’s condition is deteriorating. I want to be with him in his twilight years. I want to hug him and take care of him. I want to go home soon,” Esther told Khaleej Times.

So when Esther read that the government has announced a general amnesty for violators of the UAE’s residency law, she couldn’t keep her joy in anticipation that she will soon be able to be with her husband.

Read the full article here in the Khaleej Times.

Main image: Amnesty seekers wait for their paper work at BLS service centre in Dubai.- KT file photo