Brigadier Hadher Khalaf Al Muhairi, director of the General Directorate of Naturalization and Residency, announced on 27 April that the cabinet has approved the use of legal contracts regulating the relationship between domestic workers, their employers and their recruitment agencies. Working conditions, including salaries, annual holidays and job descriptions would be specified in the contracts to prevent abuses. The contract would apply to new domestic workers as well as those renewing their residency.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs announced that the country would begin phasing out the sponsorship system in selected sectors this year in a bid to boost emiratization. According to Labor Minister Matar Humaid Al Tayer, the license for three sectors, namely air travel, employment and placement agencies, and real estate brokering, will be restricted to UAE nationals only. Meanwhile, the cabinet has authorized the government employment agency, Tanmia, to implement measures to speed up the rate of emiratization of secretarial, managerial and desk jobs in the private sector. Effective 21 April, the government is imposing a two percent nationalization quota on private companies with at least 50 employees.
Brigadier Hadher Khalaf Al Muhairi, director of the General Directorate of Naturalization and Residency, announced on 24 April that the government plans to revise current regulations on employment visa cancellation and the six-month re-entry ban. Some employers have abused the implementation of these laws for their personal interest by arbitrarily instructing the immigration department to cancel a worker’s visa, which in turn allows the six-month ban on re-entry to take effect. To prevent further misuse of the regulations, plans are underway to either remove the ban altogether or limit its coverage to a few category of professions.
Members of the National Consultative Council (NCC) criticized the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ alleged slow processing of applications for group employment visas and the high fees it imposes for the release of such visas. The criticism was leveled at the ministry during the second session of the 15th Legislative Council on 26 April. In response to the criticism, labor undersecretary Dr. Khalid Mohammed Al Khazraji revealed that the ministry would introduce a new advanced internet-based system next month to ensure the quick and efficient issuance of employment visas.
The Labor Ministry has clarified that it is not responsible for causing delays in the completion of labor transactions. According to a ministry source, delays are the often the fault of company representatives who submit incomplete documents or do not follow them up at the right time.
Curbing visa trading
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has decided to classify recruitment firms into three or four categories, depending on the specialization of the manpower they recruit, in order to stop the practice of visa trading and to ensure the legality of these offices. The ministry also plans to come up with other criteria for classifying and assessing the performance of these firms before granting them license to operate in the country.
An official order was issued stopping the practice of making expatriate workers take visa-change exit flights to neighboring countries, following the Kish Airlines crash that killed 46 people last February. However, many expatriates continue to resort to visa-change flights to Kish, Qeshm, Qatar or Oman. According to Rajan Chansikar, head of the human resource department of a company, it is cheaper to send a worker to neighboring countries than to process the visa change within the UAE.
A UK-based online recruiting company called Saturn Jobs, has swindled thousands of Indian and Bangladeshi job seekers who were promised lucrative overseas placements in exchange for a processing fee of 75 pounds. The company set up its virtual operations in Dubai by renting an office space for 25 days, from 18 December 2003 to 13 January 2004. It then placed ads in some of India’s newspapers inviting job applicants to contact them through the company’s website and to pay the corresponding processing fees through deposits to a UK bank account. Thereafter the suspected mastermind, Paul Marks, closed his company’s operations in Dubai and disappeared.
Irregular migrants nabbed
Security personnel from the Immigration Department, in coordination with the Abu Dhabi police force, conducted surprise raids on several residential and commercial buildings in the capital on 26-27 April. The two-day operation yielded 58 irregular migrants from Asian and African countries, many of whom were runaway domestic workers.
A 32-year old Asian laborer died when he fell from a building under construction. The man had apparently lost his balance while working on scaffoldings and fell from a height of 14 meters. The case has been referred to the prosecutor’s office for investigation.
Some 44 Arab workers have filed a complaint with the Labor Ministry against a security and safety company in Dubai for nonpayment of wages for two months and for other labor malpractices, which the employer has denied. The case has been referred to the court on 25 April. Meanwhile, the company has been barred from obtaining new employment visas to recruit more workers.
UAE Labor Minister Mattar Humaid Al Tayer and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Domingo-Albert have agreed on 6 April to require Filipinos on visit visas who find contractual jobs in the emirate to secure a no-objection certificate (NOC) from their embassy or consulate before applying for employment visas. However, the NOC requirement is not yet been in effect since the mechanism for its implementation has not yet been finalized. Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Libran Cabactulan said that he welcomes both positive and negative reactions to the imposition of the NOC requirement from Filipinos in the emirate.
The Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC) has a long track record of helping Indian expatriates in distress. The organization provides advice to Indians jailed for various offenses and works closely with the labor office at the Indian consulate to provide assistance to them on humanitarian grounds. The ICWC also helps to secure the release of jailed Indian nationals by paying the diya, or blood money to the victims’ families.
The Indian consulate in Dubai announced plans to streamline procedures for renewing passports to reduce the processing time from 45 to just ten days. According to Consul-General Yash Sinha, the main source of delay in renewing passports was in getting the needed clearance from the original place of issuance in India. However, the consulate has begun to implement technical measures, such as the use of the internet and passport printers to reduce the processing time.
New Sri Lankan Consul-General for Dubai and the Northern Emirates P.D. Fernando is scheduled to meet with representatives of local recruitment firms to find out the current needs of the UAE labor market and to explore ways to further improve the skills of Sri Lankan workers. Fernando said that his country is planning to conduct intensive training programs for workers to help them become more competitive in the workplace.
Six immigration applicants have filed charges against the owner of a Dubai-based consultancy firm who allegedly promised to file their application for migration to Australia but has instead fled with their money. The clients have each paid, on the average, an initial amount of US$2,000 to the consultant. Observers estimate that the said consultant may have swindled as many as 200 immigration applicants.
Sources: Shireena Al Nowais, “Delay in labour transactions due to company representatives," Gulf News, 16 April 2004; “Consultant dupes 200 emigrant hopefuls," Gulf News, 16 April 2004; Meraj Rizvi, “Boosting workers’ skills to receive top priority," Khaleej Times, 17 April 2004; “Ministry asks workers to file complaints over unpaid salaries," Khaleej Times, 19 April 2004; Nada Mussallam, “Ministry decides to classify recruitment bureaus," Khaleej Times, 20 April 2004; Shireena Al Nowais, “Job quota system for nationals comes into force," Gulf News, 21 April 2004; Nissar Hoath and Shireena Al Nowais, “FNC imposes VAT, money transfer fees for expats," Gulf News, 22 April 2004; Bassma Al Jandaly, “Sponsorship for expat workers to be phased out for this year," Gulf News, 22 April 2004; Sunita Menon, “Indian welfare body comes to the aid of expats," Gulf News, 22 April 2004; Prerna Suri, “Fake online firm takes jobseekers for a ride," Khaleej Times, 22 April 2004; “Labourer dies in a fall," Khaleej Times, 22 April 2004; Jay Hilotin, “Visa-change flights continue to flourish," Gulf News, 23 April 2004; Sunita Menon, “Passport renewals to be faster," Gulf News, 23 April 2004; Muawla E. Ibrahim, “No 6-month ban if expatriates have skills," Khaleej Times, 25 April 2004; Shireena Al Nowais, “Visa cancellation, entry ban rules to be revised," Gulf News, 25 April 2004; P.V. Vivek Anand, “United Arab Emirates changes visa regulations," Arab News, 27 April 2004; “Labour Ministry draws flak over red tape, visa charges," Khaleej Times, 27 April 2004; Shireena Al Nowais, “Housemaid contracts to get legal teeth," Gulf News, 28 April 2004; Nissar Hoath, “58 illegal residents rounded up in Abu Dhabi," Gulf News, 29 April 2004; Ramona Ruiz, “Securing NOC in the interest of expatriate Filipinos," Khaleej Times, 29 April 2004; “Ministry receives over 25 labor disputes every day," 29 April 2004; “58 held in swoop on illegal immigrants," Khaleej Times, 29 April 2004