By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
AL AIN, United Arab Emirates – New visa laws passed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have caused many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to be stranded outside the UAE. There are reports that as many as 6,200 OFWs are waiting in Iran and Oman for new visas so that they may reenter the UAE; some have been waiting as long as a month.
Many OFWs come to the UAE looking for work in the UAE, Oman, and Iran on a visit visa. However, in March the government of the UAE passed new visa laws that limit the ability to renew visit visas. Visitors seeking to come to the UAE may apply for a visit visa which is valid for up to 60 days, with a 30 day extension available. Under the new law, after the visit visa expires, OFWs must apply for a tourist visa. However, the visa applications can take as long as 60 days to process, leaving many OFWs without valid visas. Before the new law, visa renewals often took no more than 2 or 3 days. Although the new law applies to anyone wishing to get a visa, many of those affected were Filipino workers.
Without a valid visa, many OFWs have been left stranded in Oman and Iran. There are reports that as many as 5,000 people are currently stranded on Kish Island in Iran. Kish has less stringent immigration laws allowing visitors to stay as long as 14 days without a visa, with an extension available for a fee.
Many are living in hotels, others on the streets. Since laws on Kish forbid immigrants to stay in private homes without a visa, there are limited options. Photos sent to the Philippines show as many as 12 people living in a single room. Filipino government officials have said that many are not staying in hotels since many hotels require guests to leave their passports at the desk to ensure payment.
The Filipino government has asked for leniency from the government of the UAE for Filipino immigrants who are stranded, saying that the situation of the OFWs has amounted to a humanitarian crisis. Many of those who could afford it have returned to the Philippines, but others, especially those employed in the UAE, wish the stay in the Middle East. However, it is thought that the UAE will not allow for exceptions since the new law was announced over three months before it’s implementation. Reports say that travel agents may be to blame for misinforming the OFWs as to the effects of the new laws.
For more information, please see:Khaleej Times – Over 5,000 Await Visas on Kish – 28 September 2008
Inquirer – Travel Agencies Blamed for Stranded OFWs Outside UAE – 27 September 2008
Overseas Filipino News – Government Asks UAE’s ‘Leniency’ on Stranded Filipinos – 27 September 2008
ABS-CBN News – 6,000 Pinoys Stranded in Mideast Due to UAE Visa Snags – 26 September 2008
ABS-CBN News – Stranded Pinoys in UAE a Humanitarian Crisis – 26 September 2008
Khaleej Times – Coordinated Effort to Bail Out Filipinos Stranded at Al Buraimi – 24 September 2008
Khaleej Times – 45 Stranded at Al Buraimi Border – 22 September 2008