The UAE Cabinet's decision to introduce visa reforms is being hailed as 'a new lease of life' for expatriate jobseekers, illegal residents, blue-collared workers, widows and divorced women.
The sweeping changes to UAE visa rules will provide a security blanket to overstaying expats and encourage them to come out and legalise their status, which can eventually help them get appropriate employment, opined senior diplomats and social workers.
Furthermore, the decision will also lighten the load on diplomatic missions and welfare organisations that pay hefty penalties on behalf of residents with expired visas. Blue-collared workers are set to benefit the most from the new visa reforms, said the diplomats.
Vipul, Consul-General of India to Dubai, said the widespread changes in the visa regime of the UAE would definitely reduce the burden on the mission and also boost tourism from India. "These are very widespread changes to the visa regime in the UAE, especially for workers. All these steps are very welcome, they will alleviate problems and make it easy to take visas. For us specifically, it would boost tourism from India. If transit visas are given more easily, a lot of people would want to come and spend time here."
Rowena Pangilinan Daquipil, chargé d' affairs at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said:
"We are awaiting details so that we can assist in disseminating information to the Filipino community. These developments, especially concerning waiving overstaying fines and temporary six-month visa for jobseekers, will benefit many regarding evaluating their job options rather than accepting the next available job.
"Moreover, we expect that many overstaying Filipinos would come forward once details on the new rules from the Immigration are supplied soon," she added.
In a statement to Khaleej Times, the Pakistan Consulate in Dubai said: "The introduction of the new visa reforms for illegal residents, widows, divorcees and jobseekers are bound to have far-reaching impacts to ease out penal and financial burden on all expatriates including Pakistani community in the UAE."
The statement added: "These are much awaited positive steps, especially towards the welfare of the labour class. In fact, it will reduce the number of issues that are faced by the workers and will also help in lessening the workload of the mission as the reforms cover all those important issues/matters that are being dealt in the consulate on a daily basis."
The Filipino official also noted that expats who have overstayed their visas are susceptible to abuse at work. They are at the mercy of their provisional employers and cannot lodge complaints to authorities for fear of being deported. They are also deprived of benefits such as medical insurance. "But now the fear that they are illegal will be removed, and there are no punitive actions to rectify their status," Daquipil said.
Flexibility in the job market
The reforms would make the UAE more workers-friendly. Vipul said: "The liberalisation for people who might have overstayed their visas is useful for workers. The mission deals with several cases where funds are spent from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) to pay for hefty overstay fines, legal advice and providing basic sustenance to distressed Indians.
The new reforms would help workers who've overstayed, streamline their visas, and enable them to come back the UAE for working again, thereby reducing the burden on ICWF."
According to the Pakistani consulate spokesperson, waiver on overstay fines and exemption of entry bans will facilitate adequate Pakistani workers to get jobs with proper status. "Moreover, the problems faced by the jobseekers entering on visit visas will eventually go down, as an added period of six months can be availed for a perfect market hunt,".
Meanwhile, Daquipil underlined "those working part-time and have overstayed their visas would be wise to come forward to legalise their stay, and then eventually look for appropriate employment."
Previously those who overstayed illegally and wanted to go home would go directly to the Immigration to appeal on humanitarian grounds to lower the fines. But that would also mean deportation and a possible ban.
Soon there will be an exemption of fines in case of voluntary departure and possibility of visa transfer and exception from penalties for a minimal fee. The UAE will also allow people who have entered the country illegally to leave with a two-year ban.
"And since they will be given six months to look for suitable employment, they can have the flexibility for a better job offer," noted Daquipil, adding: "The new visa rules are in line with the memorandum of agreement (MoU) between UAE and the Philippines protecting the workers."
By Angel Tesorero and Dhanusha Gokulan
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