OFWs in UAE scramble to update visas following new policies

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) scrambled to check their visa status after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government announced it would be rescinding visas made at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

The new policies, according to Emirates News Agency (WAM), the official news organization of the UAE government, take effect July 11, 2020. (READ: Filipinos in UAE band together to weather coronavirus pandemic)

It would, among others, cancel the December 31, 2020 extension of residency visas that expired between March 1 and 31, 2020.

It also reversed the decision to validate "visas and entry permits for those inside the country from March 1, 2020 until the end of December of this year.”  

“The decision on identity cards that expired on March 1, 2020, being considered valid until the end of December 2020, will also be canceled,” the announcement further stated, referring to the national ID.

Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes said the Philippine missions in the UAE are on standby to provide assistance to OFWs who might be affected by the changes and wish to return home instead.

“Both the embassy and the consulate reiterate its commitment to assist all Filipinos who express their intention to return to the Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) assures everyone that those who request to be repatriated will be assisted accordingly,” he said.

Another ranking DFA official said the Philippine’s foreign post in the UAE has, as of yet, no figures on the number of OFWs who could lose their legal status in the host-country as a result of the new policies.

The official assured nonetheless that DFA’s post in the UAE will provide help in line with the “whole gamut of services offered” to Filipinos abroad.

“The UAE government has every right to change or amend its rules, like all sovereign governments. To all affected, just like our mandate, we will help, assist, our nationals as much as possible,” the official said.  

Fortunately, grace periods of up to 3 months are granted for those affected to renew their documents.

The announcement caused OFWs to flood travel agencies with calls inquiring about procedures.

Maya’t-maya ang tawag sa amin. Hanggang sa bahay walang tigil (We constantly get calls. They don't stop, even when we've already gone home for the day),” said Larry Esguerra, office manager at MPQ Tourism.

Walang tigil ang mga telepono, landline, at mobile. Daig pa namin ang call center (The phones, whether landline or mobile, just won't quit. We're busier than a call center),” he added.

Nagpanic ang lahat. Super-dami ng mga tumatawag (Everyone panicked. We're getting a ton of calls),” echoed Sid Rivera, marketing manager at Al Qadi Tourism.

WAM said the decision was made “after the current situation was studied in detail, to ensure that there were no negative effects or repercussions on various sectors.” (READ: Over 88,000 OFWs in UAE seek aid, but funds only for 17,000)

OFWs with plane tickets for the Philippines are also worried. 

Among them is Jhoy Dumol Cabanalan Sales of Iloilo, who arrived in the UAE with a visit visa on March 5, 2020. Her visa expired June 5, and she was able to book a flight home for July 1, but the trip was postponed to August 4.

Sana maka-uwi na ako ng August 4. Gustong gusto ko nang umuwi,” she said. “Nakakalungkot na po dito.

(I hope I can head back on August 4. I really want to go home. It's gotten so lonely here.) – Rappler.com