Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jul 12, 2002
Industry & Economy
UAE may offer amnesty to illegal immigrants Indian Consulate gearing up for emergency exit papers
ABU DHABI, July 11
THE Indian Consulate General in Dubai is taking necessary measures to offer assistance to applicants for emergency exit certificates, in the eventuality of the UAE authorities announcing a second general amnesty for illegal immigrants in the latter part of this year, according to a senior official.
"We have not been provided with any fixed date for the amnesty as yet. We do expect that there will be a number of applications for emergency exits if such a move is announced later this year and we are taking necessary measures to meet this demand," Mr I.P. Mohanan, Head of Chancery and Acting Consul General, told Business Line.
The UAE Interior Minister, Lt. Gen. Dr Mohammed Saeed Al Badi, had informed the Federal National Council earlier this year that in order to contribute to the solving of the problem of the country's demographic structure, the Ministry would issue a decree which will give a three-month grace period to those living illegally in the country to either rectify their visa status or leave the country, the official news agency WAM had stated.
The UAE authorities are reported to have put in place necessary procedures for general amnesty, though no specific date has as yet been announced.
This would be the second general amnesty granted to illegal immigrants in the UAE. The first was in 1996,which led to the exit of thousands of expatriates with no proper documents. A majority of those who left the country then were from the sub-continent. The Indian Consulate in Dubai bore the brunt of the demand for applicants in 1996, with nearly 37,000 Indian expatriates who did not possess passports applying for emergency exits at the mission.
Mr Mohanan was of the view that this time round, an amnesty announcement may not be met with such a heavy demand. "The first amnesty resulted in a huge demand as it provided an opportunity for many who were here for a long time on an illegal status to leave the country. This time, the rush could be on a much lower scale," he said, adding that the mission was estimating around 20,000 applications.
The proposed amnesty follows a series of measures by the UAE authorities to regularise and streamline the expatriate labour force in the country over the past few years.
According to the Indian Consulate official, the number of labour contract violations had dropped following introduction of visa restrictions, compulsory bank guarantee provisions and sponsorship transfer rules by the UAE authorities.
"These moves have had a positive impact. It has considerably reduced cases of exploitation of workers by agents at the other end. Inspections by the local authorities ensure that companies are recruiting only the required number of workers," he said.
While labour disputes, particularly those related to non-payment of wages, continued to be reported at the Consulate, the number of such disputes had come down, particularly those involving large groups of workers, thanks to strict enforcement of rules related to workers' rights by the local authorities, the official said.
In some cases, the companies that closed down had either reopened, or the workers had left the country, he said. Many of the cases the mission deals with now were due to absconding employers who left the workers high and dry, he said.
The mission was currently attending to one such case, where an Italian running a construction contracting company absconded, leaving behind nearly 200 workers including 50 Indians, without paying them salaries for 4-6 months, and providing no basic amenities for them to stay. The local labour and police authorities provided a lot of assistance in such cases, the official said. The UAE authorities were reportedly taking a very strong view of such cases and companies have been warned of suspension or cancellation of licences for offences such as default on payments, industry sources said.
Tough penalties including jail terms proposed in draft amendments to the labour law for violations of rights of workers by private companies, could act as deterrents in the future, they added.
A majority of the UAE's workforce is made up of expatriates, mainly from India and other sub-continent countries, followed by the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Arab countries. In recent years, the UAE authorities have sought to reduce the demographic imbalance through measures aimed at Emiratisation of the workforce.
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