khaleejtimes - 7/12/2018 4:52:36 PM - GMT (+4 )
Filipina expat Michelle, 46, used to run a travel and ticketing agency. She sponsored and facilitated visas and tickets for tourists. However, many of her clients absconded, leaving her with heavy immigration penalties.
Her business closed down in 2009 and she has been overstaying since then after incurring huge debts from various banks. A mother of two - 20-year-old and 12-year-old - she now pins her hope on the upcoming amnesty program to legalise her stay, and also of her children, in Dubai.
"I've been living here for 23 years," Michelle shares with Khaleej Times. "I arrived in 1995 and initially worked for six years at an American fast food company. Then I worked in an advertising firm as a secretary, in charge of handling our staff's visa and travel needs. I learned the tricks of the trade and eventually set up my own travel agency in 2006."
"I had an office in Karama. Business was great at the start but misfortune began in 2008 when many of my clients - those whom I sponsored for their tourist visa - ran away. They did not leave the country after the expiration of their visa, leaving me high and dry with heavy immigration penalties," she adds.
According to Michelle, for each absconding client, her immigration cash bond of Dh8,500 was forfeited. "At least 20 clients ran away and that was already a loss of Dh170,000 in 2008 alone," she explains.
She adds her predicament was compounded by dishonest agents who did not remit to her close to Dh200,000 sales.
"By 2009, I was already bankrupt and I had to close my business. To make matters worse, I accrued at least Dh300,000 from various banks," Michelle says.
"I'm a single mum, my husband left me for another woman, raising two kids. To survive, I had to bite the bullet and take money from loan sharks," she adds.
But that only put Michelle in a debt trap. She used her passport as a collateral for a loan from an Indian expat. Michelle said she was able to pay the loan but the loan shark left the country and she was not able to retrieve her passport.
Michelle had no passport nor visa since 2010 and with no stable means of livelihood, she took another loan, using her daughter's passport from a kababayan (compatriot). The Filipino loan shark also left the country and Michelle lost her daughter's passport.
With no passport, residency visa and other legal identification, Michelle's 12-year daughter was not able to continue formal education and finished only first grade in a Philippine school.
Thankfully, she said, her eldest son was allowed to finish high school at a different institution, despite having no legal documents. And with the help of her sisters and the little money she earns from doing small jobs, she has been able to put food on the table.
She tried to get legal documents for her family. "I went to the Philippine Consulate to get new passports for me and my daughter (her son has a passport but no residency visa) but we were told to get a police report first to declare they were lost. Obviously, I could not go to the police because I have pending bank cases," Michelle explains.
She adds: "I admit I made poor decisions but there were also circumstances beyond my control. Despite all of these, I still believe everyone deserves a second chance."
Michelle said she did not take advantage of the last amnesty in 2013 because her kids were too young to be away from her.
"This upcoming amnesty is our second chance. We definitely want to legalise our stay here. Both my kids were born in Dubai. They know no other country by the UAE. It would be very difficult for us to go back to the Philippines and there is no viable source of income that would be available for us there," she remarks.
"If given the chance, we would really want to stay in the UAE. And we hope that the authorities would allow us through the amnesty program," she adds.