Filipino expat Ann Celestial has gone through six visa runs in a span of two years and spent a considerable amount of money before she was able to find a suitable job as a teaching assistant at a preschool in Bur Dubai.
She entered Dubai two years ago on a tourist visa. She went in and out of the country five times before she landed her first job as a seasonal employee at an entertainment park. After her six-month contract expired, she went through another visa run before she was hired as a teaching assistant last month.
She spent at least Dh3,000 and four days out of the UAE for each visa run just to acquire a one-month visa and a fresh slate for job-hunting. Needless to say, the amount of money she spent (at least Dh15,000) for the visa runs has bore a deep hole in her pocket.
But the likes of Ann Celestial who come to Dubai looking for opportunities and greener pasture will soon change after the UAE Cabinet, chaired by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, adopted major changes in UAE visa rules on Wednesday.
A new six-month visa will be introduced for job seekers who overstayed their visa but wish to work in the country. The UAE Cabinet will also allow individuals wishing to adjust or renew their visa to do so for a fee, without having to leave and re-enter the country.
"This is a big respite for us, expatriates, who come here seeking employment," Celestial told Khaleej Times. "This new visa scheme will definitely elevate the UAE's position as a land of opportunities and a magnet for talents and professionals."
Adopting to changing of times
Barney Almazar, director of corporate-commercial department at Gulf Law Middle East, added: "These recent Cabinet decisions prove that the UAE government is not deaf to the needs of the present times, taking into consideration the changes in international situation, technological advancements, economic conditions and social mores."
Incidentally, Almazar recently helped a mother with three kids get a reprieve from a hefty overstaying fine that has reached a staggering Dh712,400.
"It became too much to bear for the family but there was no legal framework to plead the case and we appealed purely on humanitarian grounds that the mother was a victim of an unscrupulous fixer," Almazar explained.
"Now there will be clear-cut guidelines to resolve cases like this. The new rules will eliminate or reduce the need for 'fixers' as the process will be straightforward," Almazar underlined.
He added: "Moreover, the simplified and straightforward rules especially on overstaying expats would encourage those who are illegally staying to amend their visa status."
"Before, those who were overstaying had no way to legitimise their stay in the country other than appealing on humanitarian considerations and the confusing rules, lack of adequate information and understanding of the laws made them fearful to act on their situation. Now, we have a legal basis for them to secure their residency status," Almazar explained.
David John, managing director at David John Management Consultancies, said people who come to the UAE on the pretext of being tourists but are actually seeking employment can now "genuinely come to the UAE with the real purpose of looking for jobs."
"Their conscience will be clear and they will no longer be fearful that what they're doing is illegal," he added.
Philanthropist Firoz Merchant, founder and chairman of Pure Gold Group, for his part said: "The new (visa) rules are humanitarian in their outlook as they offer a second chance for people who have overstayed as it makes it easier for people to transfer their visa status. This will come as a great relief for many and will add to the overall positivity of the nation. The new rules are also comprehensive in strengthening the overall economy, especially the relaxation in rules for transit visitors - which will boost the tourism, hospitality, FMCG and retail sectors."
For a competitive global labour market
Philippine consul-general Paul Raymund Cortes said the new visa rules "will facilitate greater movement of people, in line with the UAE's goal of making the country more attractive and competitive in the global labour market."
"The UAE is widely opening its doors for global talents and I expect the influx of more Filipinos coming to the UAE," he added.
Despite the relaxing of visa rules in the UAE, Cortes clarified that there are rules and regulations governing the citizens of labour-sending countries like the Philippines that should also come into play.
"Notwithstanding the laws of the UAE, however, we also need to ensure that our domestic laws and policies are adhered to. This means that Filipinos who are seeking employment abroad should go through the proper channels like undergoing seminars and processing by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which is responsible for our overseas employment program," Cortes pointed out.
A boost to tourism industry
Another clear winner in changing the UAE visa rules is the tourism industry, according to Malou Prado, CEO and managing director of MPQ Tourism LLC based in Satwa and Deira.
Prado said the UAE exemption of transit passengers from all entry fees for the first 48 hours and transit visa extension for up to 96 hours for a fee of Dh50 will definitely prop up tourism in the country.
"More people will be attracted to visit the country's world-class tourist spots, they will sign up for tour packages, and hotels and restaurants will be in demand," Prado said
"Although we will be affected by the new six-month visa as people will prefer to get longer visa rather than short-term ones, but there will be more business in the tourism industry so the net effect will still be positive on the business side," she added.
Meanwhile, Prado also raised her concern that some unscrupulous employers might abuse the six-month visa and utilise this to get staff without actually giving them employment visa.
"But I'm sure the government will definitely look into this and protect the workers," Prado concluded.