Overstay fines become a hurdle for Nepali workers waiting to return home from the UAEMany workers have been charged with hefty fines for overstaying their visas as flights to Nepal were suspended for months due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
After months of wait, Khem, a Nepali migrant worker in Dubai, managed to get a flight ticket to return home.
But in the last three weeks, his flight has been rescheduled several times.
“I managed to buy the ticket with some contribution from my employer and loan from my family back home. But here I am still, counting my days to return,” Khem told the Post from Dubai over the phone.
Having gone through a series of flight rescheduling, Khem is uncertain when—or whether—he will reach home. Khem, who hails from Jhapa, is particularly worried after witnessing what happened to his three friends, whom he had gone to see off at Dubai airport last Monday.
“My three friends could not board their flight because they could not pay the overstay fines,” Khem said. “They requested the officials to allow them to board the flight, but nothing happened.”
The Nepal Airlines flight took off, leaving behind at least 17 workers at Dubai airport.
Khem said even when the flights are available, many Nepali workers are unable to return home because of hefty overstay fines.
Many workers do not have the money to pay the fines. Their money has been spent on air tickets, which are already several times expensive.
The UAE government’s ongoing amnesty programme for foreigners, including Nepali migrants, have given a three-month grace period to the foreigners whose visa expired before March 1, meaning they have until November to return to their countries without facing any punishments or fines for overstaying their visas.
There are many Nepali workers in the UAE, including Khem and his three friends, whose visas expired after the March 1 cutoff date and now face overstay fines and thereby unable to return home unless they pay the fines.
These workers could not return home soon after their visa had expired because there were no flights to bring them home.
“I managed to get a ticket and I have borrowed money from my friends to pay for the PCR test. But I have no idea how I am going to pay around 1,200 UAE Dirhams (approximately Rs38,243) as an overstay fine,” said Khem.
He fears he will be stranded without food and accommodation.
According to Pasang Sherpa, vice-chairman of Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA), UAE chapter, overstay fines are being charged only to those workers boarding their flights via Dubai airport as different emirates have different rules.
“The rule applies to all foreigners, so even the embassy cannot do much in this regard,” Sherpa told the Post. “The only solution to this problem is that either the Nepal government should pay the fines or make the employers pay.”
Sherpa said this situation would not have arrived had the Nepal government agreed to the UAE government’s proposal of flying the Nepali workers to Kathmandu for free of cost.
“The UAE government had approached the Nepal government about sending back Nepali workers on free flights, but the Nepal government did not even give the landing permission,” Sherpa said.
Over 35,000 Nepali migrants have registered with the Nepal embassy in Abu Dhabi to return home. Nepal government’s failure to address the plights of undocumented workers have put hundreds of workers without work and valid visas in trouble.
According to Som Prasad Lamichhane, director with the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an organisation working for the rights of Nepali migrant workers, Nepal government could have taken a diplomatic initiative to waive off the overstay fines of migrant workers.
“We have not seen diplomatic dialogue with the host nations to help the Nepali workers,” said Lamichhane. “The government could have at least requested for the general amnesty for workers whose visas have expired and could not travel home because of the lockdown.”
Khem and his three friends have a rescheduled flight on Sunday. They don’t know whether they will be allowed to board the plane with unpaid overstay fines.
“We did not choose to stay here after our visas had expired. There were no flights for months. I don’t know why our government is not doing anything,” said Khem. “I had no job for months and the fine is building up”