Monday, June 04, 2007

You Know You've Been in Dubai Too Long When...

...the Government announces another amnesty for illegal residents. This is the third amnesty during our time here. They seem to be happening about every five years. There are two reasons for people being here illegally

1) They entered the country without any kind of visa, in which case they deserve everything they get, and

2) They had some kind of visa, but it expired and, for whatever reason, they did not leave.

We know lots of people who were caught in situation 2. The policy has always been that once your visa has expired, you are liable to a fine of Dhs 100 per day of your overstay. This very quickly builds up into a fine that nobody in this situation can pay. For example, say you had a job, but you were dismissed or the company closed down. Your residence visa gets cancelled. You have 30 days in which to leave the country. But you have bankrupted yourself to get here and you really do not want to leave just now. So you bust your guts trying to find a job. You have some good interviews and a couple of verbal offers. But you have to wait for those offers to turn into written offers.

This will always take time because the owner of the company or whoever is responsible is too busy/out of the country/too lazy. Your deadline comes and goes. You are taking a flyer, but you feel it is justified because very soon you will have a job offer, and that will turn into a job, and everything will be fine. Except, when the person responsible for making your written offer finally gets down to it, he decides he doesn't want you at salary xx,xxx per month, he's giving the job to the tea-boy at xxx per month. Now you are trapped. You have virtually no money, and you are already on day 15 of your overstay. You now have no choice but to hang on until you do get a job.

You (well maybe not you, but I) hear all kinds of stories about people who have surrendered themselves to the authorities. Of people (typically Asians) who are fined the full Dhs 100 per day for their entire overstay period, and are accommodated at HH's pleasure until they deign to pay the amount. Which of course they do not have, an so they languish in jail until somebody pays their fine or they get pardoned as part of a Ramadan clean-out. And others (typically westerners, but I'm not saying there's any racial bias here) who just get fined an admin fee and are able to sort themselves out for about Dhs 1,000.

I know of one Brit who had overstayed for about 15 years. He took advantage of the last amnesty, and the Immigration officials all wanted signed copies of his documents because they had never seen such an extreme case!

The daily fine policy has exactly the opposite effect to what it should have. You very quickly reach a point of no return, not out of malice, and not deliberately; but very quickly you find yourslef so deep in the mire that you cannot even dream about how you might get out of it. It forces people not to come forward and try to get their status sorted out. It discourages employers from hiring people with an overstay problem. It actually causes many more problems than it solves. And it makes it necessary to hold an amnesty every five years.

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