Expats in the UAE may come from different countries and cultural backgrounds but they share some common problems.
Dubai: Life overseas is both exciting and financially rewarding for many expatriates, but there are also a number of problems associated with relocating abroad.
According to a legal expert, who is well-versed in helping UAE-based expatriates in distress, many foreign workers, regardless of their passport, have found themselves in trouble due to a number of issues.
The top five of these are inability to repay debt, having sex outside marriage, using or possessing controlled substances, having a dispute with their employer and forging documents.
Barney Almazar, director at Gulf Law, explained why these woes came about and offered advice on how to avoid some of these.
A number of expatriates have fallen into a debt trap and landed behind bars. The cases stemmed from failure to repay credit card debt or personal loan, and paying with cheques that later bounced.
Others have been unable to borrow again because they have been blacklisted by banking authorities, while some are facing the difficulty of leaving the country because their passport has been used as a guarantee by a troubled borrower.
According to Almazar, there have been several expatriates of different nationalities who have turned to them for advice or legal assistance to deal with indebtedness, among other problems.
“It is very east to get credit cards and loans in the UAE. Most will come here looking for better opportunities. Credit cards and easy cash loans give you a false belief that you have so much money at your disposal,” he explained.
For many expats, things start getting complicated when they lose their jobs or when their employers fail to pay their salaries. “This is the start that they use their cards heavily and not being able to pay until the banks cash their security cheques. Because of the police case, they will not be able to renew their visa. So the situation gets worse.”
“If they are still employed, their employer will have to let go of them since
their visas cannot be processed. If they are already unemployed, they won’t
be able to join another company since their visas can’t be processed due to
the police case.”
Expats are advised that if they default on credit card or loan payments or the cheques they use to settle their bills have bounced, they are likely to end up in jail.
There have been reports of expatriates facing legal issues after having sex outside marriage or getting pregnant out of wedlock. Others are also in trouble for having extra-marital affairs.
The local laws, for example, do not allow unmarried couples to share the same roof. The punishment for consensual sex is one-year detention, pursuant to Article 356 of the Penal Code.
Almazar said expatriates usually seek assistance when an illegal affair has resulted in pregnancy. “If we will include marital disputes involving extramarital affairs or presence of third parties, I would [deal with] an average of ten [cases] a month,” said Almazar.
“Most of the time, [the problem] will lead to a court case if the act resulted to pregnancy and the mother has to deliver here [in Dubai]. Other instances are when there are unexpected complications with pregnancy requiring medical attention--which means disclosing the fact of engaging in premarital sex. In some cases, the complication was due to induced abortion--majority are those left by their partners.”
Another problem faced by many expatriates, according to Almazar, is intoxication or possession of prohibited drugs. Drinking without a licence to purchase regulated beverages is illegal and can land expatriates in jail. Anyone caught violating the law may face a detention of less than a month to six months, or a fine of Dh1,000.
Unfortunately, not many expats are probably aware of such prohibition, so they end up in trouble. Expats are well advised to avoid driving after having drinks at the bar on a night out or bringing home/transporting regulated beverages if they don’t have a permit.
Dispute with employer/ illegal recruitment
A number of expatriates have found themselves in a legal dispute with their employer due to non-payment of salaries. Contract substitution, employment ban and working for a different sponsor are also the usual issues faced by expatriates in the UAE. In certain communities, particularly among Asians, one of the most common problems is illegal recruitment.
Almazar said certain expats are particularly vulnerable to illegal recruiters due to the absence of laws that protect the rights of migrant workers.
Improper use of documents
Sometimes, people have to jump through hoops just to get things done, and this can include forging some documents. Many cases faced by expats stem from the use of fake educational qualifications. Other cases involve tenancy contracts and fraudulent birth certificates.
“These cases are usually about educational qualifications - some employers
will accept the document even if they know it to be fake so that when the
employee resigns, they will use the fake document against him. Submission of
fake document is not only criminal but also a ground to lose your gratuity
pay,” said Almazar.
“Other instances are tenancy contacts - since you cannot sponsor your wife or
children if you do not have a tenancy contract under your name.”