KAMPALA – Many Ugandans, and indeed many other people from poor African and Asian economies are duped by unscrupulous middlemen to go to United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to work.
Indeed many job seekers fall prey to the false promises of some fake recruitment companies and individuals in Dubai that promise them jobs on Visit visa. Although accepting a job in UAE on a Visit visa is possible, it is not a right thing to do. Son, daughter of mother, I say: Never say yes to any job on Visit visa in this Asian economy.
Ugandan job seekers in the Arab world
As of August 6, there were 101 registered companies allowed to export labour to the Middle East, under their umbrella organisation the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agency.
We have all heard of stories of many Ugandan job seekers suffering in that part of the world. Currently, at least 40,000 Ugandans live and work in the UAE, mostly in security companies, and as house helps.
In May 2018 The New Vision reported that an association of Ugandans living in United Arab Emirates was crying out to the Uganda government to rescue 33 Ugandan job-seekers who were stuck in Dubai.
The group got stranded after being dumped there by a labour export firm. The group had travelled on one-month tourism visas but had been promised to change their visas and work as maids and security guards. It is alleged that each one of them had paid the “recruiter” between UGX5m and UGX9m.
Bad working conditions in the Middle East
A report released by Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Gender in 2017, revealed that about 50 Ugandans, most of them women, had died in UAE in the year. Dr. Sam Omara, of the Ugandan Embassy in Abu Dhabi, was quoted by Khaleej Times, a daily in UAE, saying many of the suicide cases resulted from frustrations.
“Some of these people are told by recruitment companies that they are coming here to get good jobs and with big salaries, and when they get here, they get frustrated when they find things different.”
In September 2018, Daily Monitor spoke of how Ugandan workers in the Middle East were being cheated. And on September 25, the same year, aviation authorities at Entebbe airport stopped 29 females and one male from flying out to Oman and UAE. Thereafter, in October 2018, the Uganda government suspended externalisation of Ugandan workers to Oman.
The Gender, Labour and Social Development minister Janat Mukwaya explained that the decision to bar Ugandans from seeking jobs in Oman was as a result of human rights violations against Ugandans in that country. Government insisted then that Saudi Arabia and Jordan were the only countries allowed to import Ugandan labour.
“Those that are in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are there on their own,” the minister said then, although things might have changed now.
Unemployment is such a threat in an individual’s life that even the most learned, and the very intelligent are duped into accepting work on Visit visas. Even when the name says “Visit visa”, and even when the law clearly states that people residing in the UAE on a Visit visa are prohibited from working, and that companies are prohibited from employing such people, the practice still goes on.
Kelly Clarke of Khaleej Times spoke to some foreigners who have had ugly experiences working in Dubai on Visit visas.
“I came here 10 months ago on a visit visa and managed to secure a job after one month. They held my passport and told me they would process a two-year Employment visa, but after two months of continuous working, nothing materialised,” an Indian expat T.A. said.
Being paid cash-in-hand, T.A. was promised a monthly salary of Dh3,500 (around UGX3.5m) but received only Dh3,000 (around UGX3m).
“I kept asking to get my labour papers so that I at least know they were processing it, but they never came. The labour courts would come in and do inspections, but just before their arrival, our company would tell those on visit visas to leave the building.”
After constantly deferring her queries regarding an employment visa, T.A. said that in the third month when her Visit visa was due to expire the company told her that no Employment visa was coming.
“People on a Visit visa cannot approach the court or police to complain, so companies get away with exploiting people like me. This is a big trend,” she said.
What the law says
Article 11 of the Federal Law No. 6 for 1973 concerning immigration and residence clearly states that “the alien who obtains a Visit visa may not work anywhere in the country with or without pay or for his own”.
Additionally, by virtue of Federal Decree Law No 7 for 2007, “a fine of Dh50,000 (around UGX50m) per worker has been prescribed, in the event the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation finds any employer employing an individual on a Visit visa”. If the offence is repeated, the fine amount is doubled.
Expatriate employers violating the law will be deported and banned for life from entering the UAE. And for UAE nationals abusing the law, a six-month prison term will be handed down.
Despite this, and despite the right information desperate people might have, it takes only a click on one’s computer or smartphone to access the Internet to see numerous job listings that specifically target applicants on Visit visas.
‘Technical Consultant (Visit visa preferred)’; ‘Java Programmer (Visit visa/Immediate Availability)’; and ‘Admin Assistant Male on Visit Visa’; Security Officer (Visit visa preferred) are a few of the numerous job postings anyone can come across anytime on the Internet.
But the reasons for such postings may vary, Louise Vine, managing director of Inspire Selection, told the Dubai paper.
Companies may ask for someone on a Visit visa if the role is “super urgent” and some may also wish to place someone on a trial period before providing an Employment visa. However, when a legitimate agency is involved, this generally does not happen.
“When we do hear about this type of thing though, it is usually with lower-income earners such as maids, drivers, labourers,” she said.
One such person was a Nigerian expat F.O. Arriving in Dubai in February 2018, he worked for several months in two separate jobs in exchange for a small cash-in-hand salary.
He said: “I was new to the country and handed my passport over to my employer on the promise my visa would be changed to a Residency visa. I was washing dishes in a restaurant. After three months of being told my visa would come, I started panicking. When my Visit visa expired, my manager told me they did not have the quota to take me on, so I had to leave.”
After exiting UAE to Oman, F.O. returned to Dubai two months later and took up a labourer’s position in Al Ain.
“That was such hard work. I did that for two months. I was told I would get paid Dh800 (approximately UGX800,000) a month, but they paid me just Dh600 (around UGX600,000) and again, kept telling me my visa would come but it never did. I left out of anger because I had been duped two times.”
Given the legal implications of working on a Visit visa, T.A. and F.O. said that in their experience, companies are taking advantage of vulnerable job seekers. Knowing they have no legal grounding if they are treated unfairly in the workplace, bad employers lure them in on the pretext of probationary work, before letting them go once their Visit visa is expired.
Is all lost?
No! According to Ashish Mehta, founder and managing partner of Ashish Mehta & Associates, if a complaint is made against the employer by an employee who is a victim, the employer may be penalised.
“However, similarly, an employee may also get into trouble for working illegally. A penalty or a ban may be imposed on the employer and the employee,” Mehta said.
As such, residents and visitors are urged to seek employment through the right, legal channels and on right visas.
Got the job?
As you take up a job in UAE, the following must be within your possession.
Offer letter: It’s mandatory for companies to issue an offer letter to you, mentioning the terms and conditions of the job. This has to be signed and accepted by you.
Ministry approval: The signed offer letter should be submitted by the employer to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation for approval.
Work permit/Residency visa: The employer will procure your work and residency permits.
Health screening: Your medical tests will be conducted at government-approved health centres in the UAE. You will be tested for communicable diseases/conditions/Covid-19 and Vaccination.
Certificate attestation: If you hold a degree from outside the UAE, you must get it certified from the UAE embassy or consulate in your country and also from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your home country.
And lastly, remember to keep your passport safe. It is your right, and it will break or make your stay in UAE.