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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

UAE: Seven Percent Depart

The United Arab Emirates in July 1996 launched a three-month amnesty during which illegal aliens who had overstayed visas or left their original sponsor could leave the UAE without penalty. On September 9, 1996, the free-departure amnesty was extended to include all illegal aliens. By October 31, 1996, it was estimated that at least 167,000 illegal immigrants had left the UAE, equivalent to seven percent of the population.

Most of those who left were Asians from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh and the Philippines, employed in construction as well as shops, garages, hotels and restaurants and other small enterprises.

Since their departure, wages are up: 40 percent for maids and 10 to 20 percent for workers in hotels. Businesses that cater to foreign workers have experienced sales declines.

Beginning January 1, 1997, illegal migrants face up to three years in jail and a fine of 30,000 dirhams ($8,147 dollars). The UAE can fine illegal migrants up to 100 dirhams ($27.20) for each day that they are in an illegal status. Smugglers face up to 15 years imprisonment and fines of between 15,000 and 100,000 dirhams ($4,087 to $27,247).

The UAE apprehended 6,131 foreigners attempting to illegally enter the country in 1996, down from a peak 11,487 in 1995. Police records showed more than 25,000 Asians were seized between 1970 and 1995 and most of them came by sea from neighboring Iran.

Asians form nearly half the UAE's population of 2.3 million and more than two-thirds of the work force of 800,000. There are about 250,000 foreign household workers in the UAE.

The UAE says that nationals will replace departing foreigners, but almost no UAE women work for wages, and most men are guaranteed government jobs.

Like Libya in 1995, many expect that many foreigners who were expelled will soon be invited back to the UAE. Libya in 1995 threatened to expel one million foreign workers, and did deport several thousand, but in 1997, Libya placed advertisements in Cairo newspapers inviting qualified Arabs of all nationalities to apply to settle in Libya permanently.


Alan George, "Labour exodus hits UAE's growth," Jane's Intelligence Review, February 1, 1997. Nadim Kawash, "UAE in crackdown on illegal labor," Agence France Presse, December 29, 1996.