The Ministry of Interior on Tuesday announced an amnesty for illegal residents to leave the country without any penalty within two months starting from December 4 or face legal punishment, including imprisonment and financial fines.

Major-General Nassir Al Awadhi Al Menhali, Assistant Undersecretary for Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs at the Ministry of Interior, said the Federal Cabinet has approved an amnesty for those overstaying in the country without any legal status to leave within the two months.

“The general pardon period for illegal residents to leave the country without penalties begins on December 4 and ends on February 4. After that there will be no extension or any change in the policy, and this will be the last chance to leave the country with dignity and without punishment,” said the official.

Major-General Al Menhali also clarified that those overstaying have the deadline to change their legal status if they can, but beyond that they will not be allowed to do so. He also said those going for residency amendments before the deadline can do so by paying the fines (Dh25 per day for overstaying) and other charges for the documentation process.

“There might be some people thinking to wait until the end (until February 4) with the hope they might be able to change their residency status with another extension of the grace. But let me make it crystal clear, it is the last chance else you will face punishment if you miss the deadline,” he clarified.

“From December 4 a campaign and intensified inspection will be carried out to locate the illegal residents and allow them to leave the country without any penalty within the two-month grace,” he said.

The official further added the move is simply aimed at cleaning the country from people who have no legal status to continue their stay here. He also added the illegal resident during their deportation have to go through biometric scanning and all the data stored in the central data centre at the ministry to help prevent their re-entry for a certain period.

He also clarified the general pardon applies to only those who entered the country legally but overstayed. “This does not apply to infiltrators, therefore they cannot benefit from this reprieve. They will be treated as criminals,” said the official.

Major-General Al Menhali further added, as of today a two-week campaign, mainly led by the media, is launched to make the two-month grace period a success and the ministry will be engaged with relevant embassies to help process swift issuance of out-passes for those taking benefit from the amnesty.

To a question, he said: “I’m sure we will successfully implement and complete it within two months. Therefore I think two months are enough as the number of the illegal residents is not as great as it used to be.”

To another question, he said special cases will be considered where some may not be able pay for air fares to go back home. “We will study such cases and bear the travel costs of those who cannot afford,” he explained.

Major-General Al Menhali also warned both legal expatriate residents and UAE nationals against harbouring illegal residents, for which, he added, there was a fine of Dh50,000 for every individual harboured or given support to live in the country illegally.

He also said all the Residency and Foreigners Affairs Departments at immigration offices throughout the country during these two months will be working in two shifts to assure all the illegal immigrants have acquired the relevant documents and permissions to leave the country by February 4.

Major-General Al Menhali said the Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs centres will receive reviewers in the morning and evening shifts with extra staff and equipment provided to ensure a fast completion of departure procedures.

“Such centres will be designated by all Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs General Directors in the state that will explain the appropriate work mechanisms,” he continued.

The official further advised those benefiting from the general pardon to call the toll-free 8005111 for all the information about the procedures.

Meanwhile, a number of diplomatic missions in the country hailed the UAE decision for declaring another amnesty of the illegals as a positive move.

“We welcome this step,” said Indian Ambassador M.K. Lokesh, when asked about his comment on the Interior Ministry’s declaration of an amnesty for the illegal residents to leave UAE without any penalty.

The ambassador said it was a right step and “we welcome it. We will provide all the support to those benefiting from it (the amnesty)”.

“We will have a meeting to develop a mechanism for the fast and efficient process of documents to allow the illegal Indian residents to return home without any trouble under the amnesty. All the consular staff members will be advised to expedite services during the amnesty period,” he added.

About the number of illegal Indian residents likely to be in the country, the ambassador said it was too early to give any figure. “We will be able to give any figure only after the travel documents are issued to these people and data collected from the UAE Interior Ministry after the amnesty period is over. However, 40,000 to 42,000 Indians benefitted from the last general amnesty,” he explained.

Hailing the amnesty, Sherief Al Badawi, Consul General of Egypt to Dubai and Northern Emirates, said this was a step forward in the right direction. “It is a good chance for illegal residents, disregard their nationality, to fix their position, escape fines and return home without legal action.”

He also promised all kinds of assistant will be provided to those seeking out-passes to go back home.

Al Badawi said: “We shall coordinate with our nationals and the bodies concerned here to ease the set procedures. We have already started counting up all illegal Egyptians here to help them fly home smoothly.”

The Philippines Embassy in the capital also welcomed the move saying it will support many people who have been stranded here because of lacking legal documents to help them return home without any trouble.

“We welcome the amnesty offered by the UAE government. From our side, we will help by relaying this to the Filipino community and also in any legal capacity to facilitate their exit. We will do an information campaign across the country, working together with the Dubai Consulate and the community, and our hope is that many would come forward,” said Ambassador Grace Relucio-Princesa.

Grace further urged community members to take advantage of this opportunity to go home or legalise their status in the country before the deadline.