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Nigerians in UAE face harsher times as restrictions on work permits bite harder

By Jesutomi Akomolafe
26 October 2021   |   2:01 am
Ugwueze Obinna is an unhappy man and this was evident in his speech when he first spoke with The Guardian this October. As a Nigerian civil engineer living and working in the United Arab Emirates ...

Call on President Buhari to intervene

Ugwueze Obinna is an unhappy man and this was evident in his speech when he first spoke with The Guardian this October. As a Nigerian civil engineer living and working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), renewing his work permit, which is tied to his visa, has become a major headache.

According to him, Emirate authorities are only renewing work permits for Nigerians whose job categories fall under skill levels 1 and 2 – those who hold managerial positions or have specific technical/professional education and training.

The implication, he said, is that those who have skill levels 3, 4, 5 – whose jobs do not demand specific educational or professional training are deemed expendable and their work permits are not being renewed.

His words: “I have been given notification to leave the house where I live. When I went to clear my fines for overstaying, I saw a Nigerian with his bags crying at the bus stop. I pleaded with my landlord to give me two weeks extra to stay in the house.

“Some have resorted to sleeping on the streets with their bags after they were sent out of their apartments, while those with expired visas have continued to pay fines for overstaying.”

Obinna revealed that about 3, 000 Nigerians are out of jobs already. Also a Nigerian living in the country, who identified himself as Akingbade Oluwatosin, confirmed the development to The Guardian. Cash strapped, many of them are battling mounting bills and fines,” Oluwatosin said. Oluwatosin said the refusal of the UAE to grant work permits has been traumatising for many.

“People cannot go to work, no food and they cannot pay their house rents. It has been very terrible for people here. And for the very first time in the UAE, I have heard testimonies of Nigerians getting jobs but don’t have access to work permits.

“This is why we are reaching out to the government to step in to the matter as soon as they can because I consider it diplomatic row between the Federal Government and the UAE government which can be resolved amicably,” he said.

While many believe the reluctance to renew the work permits of those in the latter categories was due to the gangsterism of some Nigerians in the Emirates, Obinna insisted that it was a direct retaliation for Nigeria’s ban of Emirate Airlines from operating in the West African country over its refusal to fly passengers without a pre-boarding Rapid Diagnostic Test (RTD) since March 17.

Emirates on the other hand insisted that Nigerians flying into the UAE must carry out three COVID-19 tests 72 hours before flight, one at the airport before takeoff and after arrival in Dubai. The minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the move by the UAE is discriminatory and a disregard of Nigeria’s track records in subduing COVID-19.

One of the Dubai residents, who spoke to The Guardian in confidence, said Emirates Airline might have put in place the controversial measure to stop Nigerians from entering the UAE with dubious COVID-19 test results.

He said: “Authorities in Nigeria were not unaware of this problem. In fact, the police arrested five persons at the Lagos airport in March for selling fake COVID-19 results to outbound passengers.”

With no end in sight to their nightmare, another Nigerian in the UAE, Oluwatosin David, told The Guardian that the situation keeps getting worse for hundreds losing their jobs weekly.

“More than 700 people have lost their jobs already. That is the data two weeks ago. The practice in UAE is that salary earners pay their rents and utility bills as soon as they earn their salaries monthly. As a result of being out of job, a lot of people no longer pay their rent. Some are sleeping on streets and in parks. Some don’t have food to eat,” David toldThe Guardian.

Olaitan Sulaiman, who also lives in UAE, revealed that for every bus stop in the country, there are stranded Nigerians seeking where to go as many are planning to return to the country.

“I have a colleague who has been working with a restaurant for three years now. He was promoted two months ago. He is earning 3, 000 UAE Dirham monthly and his visa just expired. Unfortunately, the head chef called him and told him they have tried renewing his visa twice and it is not going through. Up till now, his visa is not going through, which means he would have to leave the job. Where does he start from if he comes back to Nigeria?” he queried.

Many Nigerians are opting to change their visa status to escape being fined for overstaying, said Obinna, who had successfully switched to a visitor visa.

“I got a new job and I had to change my visa which was supposed to expire in 2023. The law here is when you change your job, you will have to start again. So, the firm applied for a new visa, but it was rejected twice.

“I had to switch to a visitor’s visa, which they call VISA change. That is what Nigerians are doing. There are jobs and vacancies here. So, many of us got a new job but got rejected because of the work permit,” he said.
Emirates Airlines COVID-19 regulations in the mix

The Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu, said Nigeria never banned the flight , that it was the decision of the UAE authority to stop its flight because of the refusal of Nigeria to accept its travel regulations.

“The ministry of aviation did not ban Emirates flights. The UAE government took a decision not to fly to Nigeria because Nigeria refused to accept the decision of their airline to maltreat Nigerians in respect of the COVID-19 tests.

“But I think the UAE government must have had something else at the back of their mind. Nigeria is not a red listed country as far as COVID-19 is concerned. People are not dying on the streets in Nigeria as a result of COVID-19. There is no reason they should treat Nigerians differently from other nationals,”Odaudu stated.

He blamed Emirates Airline for deliberately delaying the resumption of flights from Nigeria to UAE. The airline has consistently maintained that its suspension of flight to Dubai from Nigeria was due to “COVID-19 restrictions”.

The airline currently flies to 17 other destinations in Africa, including South Africa. The outbound flights from that country were initially suspended. Flights have since resumed on its Cape Town-Dubai route. To show that the UAE is serious on their resolve to shun Nigerian route, the Emirate stated on their website: “For passengers travelling to Dubai as their final destination from Nigeria, travel is currently not possible as there is no rapid PCR testing facilities at the airport.” As it is, no one knows when and how this would be resolved.

Beside the COVID-19 test conflict and flight ban, there are speculations that the travails of Nigerians in UAE could be related to gangsterism. An official of the Nigerian in Diaspora Organisation in UAE, Fernando Judel, said gang-related crimes linked to Nigerians in July might have prompted the restriction on approval of work permits for them.

According to him, such profile crimes have made work permits renewals difficult for Nigerians. February this year, videos surfaced online, showing the aftermath of a violent gang-related altercation, which according to ImpACT, is linked to Nigerians, an incident many still believe could have led to work restrictions. “If you want to apply, you would see a display in the dialogue box indicating that Nigerans are restricted. So the person cannot even apply at all, let alone, the ministry receiving the application and rejecting it,” Judel told International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

However, the UAE embassy in Nigeria has maintained that there is no official ban on work permits for Nigerian nationals. While United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Fahad Obaid AI Taffaq told Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission in August that there are thousands of Nigerians living and working in the country, he tacitly acknowledged that some Nigerians may have difficulties in renewing their permits for specific reasons.

Interestingly, Obinna revealed that female Nigerian applicants have had their permits renewed more easily in recent weeks after restrictions were lifted on them. This, he said, could be because the alleged gang clashes involve mostly men.

Whatever the reasons for their problems, Obinna and other Dubai residents who are earning legitimate living are bearing the brunt of the harsh policies as a result of alleged diplomatic face-offs they knew nothing about.

Unwilling to return to Nigeria empty handed, many are holding out, hoping that their misery will end soon. But for now, they have become the proverbial grass that suffers in the clash between two elephants.