Nigerians denied work permits in the UAE frustrated, stranded, borrow money to survive
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GBENGA ADENIJI examines the angst of many Nigerians arising from nonrenewal of their Direct Employment Visas otherwise known as work permits in the United Arab Emirates
Soft-spoken Olanrewaju Akingbemisilu’s looks were etched in discontent recalling the challenges associated with attempts to renew his Direct Employment Visa (work permit) in the United Arab Emirates for seven months. Some years ago, his expectations were high when economic woes, gloom, unemployment among other wearisome realities joined forces to make him seek succour outside Nigeria.
It’s thus a rigid choice to resist the urge to live and work in the Western Asian country when the opportunity came on a silver platter.
Armed with a certificate in civil engineering and modest savings in naira converted to Dirham, Akingbemisilu hoped for a new beginning in the UAE as the plane in 2018 taxied through the runaway in one of Nigeria’s international airports and its blades sliced the skies en route to Western Asia. His dream was falling into place after he got a job a year later upon arriving in the Gulf Tiger. He focused on his job until the UAE government ceased issuance of work permits to Nigerians in the country over indistinct reasons.
Speaking with our correspondent in a voice echoing helplessness, Akingbemisilu narrated the episode which has thrown him and other compatriots into distress.
He said, “I am a certified civil engineer from Nigeria. I got to the UAE in 2018 and in 2019 joined a firm, Adnoc Drilling Offshore. Within two years, I engaged myself in many courses to build a career in the field despite the courses being expensive. I tried to get the certification to improve my skills and increase chances of promotion.
“The courses are bosiet, advanced fire fighting, helicopter landing officer, h2s, banksmen, ringing and slinging, work atight among others. I personally funded those courses. My contract with the company expired on July 27, 2021. In the process of signing a new contract to reap the career-building courses I invested in, I was told that issuance of working permits for Nigerians was on hold. The company told me to continue working as they would reapply. They did many times until they confirmed that the UAE had placed a ban on work permits for Nigerians. I contacted the Dubai Ministry of Labour through its Twitter page in July and it said the ministry didn’t restrict work permits.’’
He stated that he thought the issue would be resolved in no time until it spanned seven months and counting, adding that the contract was eventually terminated and the company contacted him a few months later to know if the matter had been resolved.
Akingbemisilu added, “When I told them it was still a pending issue, they moved on. Since then, things have been difficult. I can’t feed myself anymore or pay rent. My tourist visa expires next week and I don’t have money to renew it. I cannot return to Nigeria now because I don’t have money to pay for the flight. I can’t take care of my family back home, my aged mother and others. I am stranded here as I don’t know what to do. The Nigerian government should come to our aid to resolve the issue.’’
Akingbemisilu is not the only Nigerian migrant facing hard times in the UAE.
Last year, over 500 Nigerians lost their jobs and were stranded for months after the Western Asian country halted granting or renewing Direct Employment Visa to them. It was gathered that the Nigerians realised the situation upon securing another jobs, their new employers applied for work permits for them or when they applied for fresh work permits. Unable to bear the ensuing despondency, some of them returned to Nigeria since they committed no crime in their host country, while others stayed, hoping that the decision would be rescinded.
The unemployment situation in Nigeria is worrisome with the National Bureau of Statistics disclosing that the country’s unemployment rate rose from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 to 33.3 per cent in Q4 2020. This indicated that within three to six months, over 1.4 million more people became unemployed. The mess has made many youths to flee the country for pastures new.
The allure of the UAE includes its cultures and traditions striking in its seven emirates namely; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah. There are an impressive number of expatriates in the country. Last year, the country was ranked 18th out of 59 countries surveyed suitable for expatriates to work and live according to a study by Expat Insider 2021.
More distressing tales
Another Nigerian caught in the web of the lingering matter is Johnson Joseph who started living in the UAE five years ago. He spent four years and three months in his previous firm before applying for another job with a new company.
He told our correspondent in a disturbed mood exposing dissatisfaction that he resigned to join the new company, stating that when the company applied for a work permit on his behalf, it was rejected several times.
Joseph said, “I learnt that Nigerians are being restricted from getting work permits. Since then I have been suffering and struggling to survive without work. To be able to stay legally in the UAE, I have to get a new visit visa every three months and it’s an expensive venture. I now have to borrow money from people in Nigeria to survive here. I have my mother to take care of and five siblings in the university who depend on me for their upkeep and schooling. I can’t support them because of the problem. We call on the Nigerian government to intervene in the matter. Nigerians are suffering and stranded.’’
For Olabisi Kazeem, the nightmare started in June 2021, when she got a new job and resigned from her previous company. Kazeem noted that it was a bad experience for her when in the first week of July, 2021, having left her former company, she contacted her new employer who processed her work permit and sent her evidence that they were unable to process the document in Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital.
She further said that the firm reapplied on her behalf at its Dubai branch and got the same response because “work permits for Nigerians were being restricted.’’
Kazeem stated that since then everything had been put on hold, particularly efforts to advance her career and work to make things easy for her. She added, “We went to the Nigerian embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai but nothing was done. Since July last year till now, I have been jobless, homeless and I don’t eat good food. I eat what I see anytime. I have my family in Nigeria who I cannot take care of anymore. I am appealing to the Nigerian government to look into the issue because many are dying as they could not withstand the problem.’’
Urgent help is what Nkechi Achalu desires to get out of depression which the wearisome issue threw her into. She expressed displeasure over the matter while speaking with our correspondent, saying, “The ban on the issuance of work permits to Nigerians by the UAE has affected me badly and even put me in depression due to lack of income.’’
She also expressed sadness over her loss of job due to the development, adding, “I started working with Gems Founder’s School in August 2021. I loved my job and the environment but unfortunately I lost the job in October 2021 due to the inability to successfully process my visa. I have been living from hand to mouth with the support of my parents in Nigeria. This should not be so. I have extended my visa thrice and the cost is draining. It is disheartening that our government is quiet when its citizens are languishing in the UAE. I urge the Nigerian government to act fast to restore our dignity.’’
Azeez Akogun had worked in two firms in the UAE since 2017 until the work permit conundrum threatened to truncate the abundant hope the country held for him.
In a measured manner, Akogun said he had worked in two different companies as a technician, adding that on June 16, 2021, he got a job offer in a company called Al Masaood. He said, “I submitted a resignation letter to my former employer on June 19, 2021, because the new company said they wanted me to start immediately I resigned from my former office. But surprisingly, I got a cancelled visa on June 22, 2021. The new company applied for my new work permit on June 27, 2021. I awaited approval until July 8, 2021, when the human resources manager called to tell me to approach my embassy because there was a restriction of work permit on Nigerian passport holders. They reapplied thrice for me and each application was rejected.’’
Unable to bear the burden of the situation, on July 11, 2021, Akogun said he visited the Nigerian embassy in Abu Dhabi to explain his predicament unknown to him that he was not the only Nigerian in the quagmire.
He noted, “I was asked to write my full name, phone number, old and new companies’ names. I did and left the premises. I returned there on July 15, 2021, for an update and was told that they were working on it. The information I got was that they had written to the UAE government.’’
Akogun further said that after a week, he returned to the embassy and got the same response the many times he visited.
He said, “The issue affects applications for both work permit renewal and fresh one. We are facing difficulties till date. My wife joined me in the UAE on December 2, 2020 and she kept searching for a job and eventually got one on June 27. The company applied for a work permit on her behalf. However, the same case of work permit rejection was recorded. Since then, I have been doing visa renewal for both of us to stay in the UAE legitimately and we keep hoping that the Nigerian government will intervene in the matter.’’
He disclosed that they visited the Nigerian embassy last year where a top official they met told them that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), would attend the Dubai Expo 2020 and address issues relating to flight restriction, work permit and bilateral relations.
Akogun stated, “We were happy that the issue would be resolved but it was saddening that nothing like that was discussed. The issue still remained the same. Nothing was done and no mention of our plight. Since June last year till now my life has been in a nasty state. My wife and I in the UAE have been in a tough situation. I am the family breadwinner and the first son of my parents. I have two children. They, my siblings and everyone look up to me.’’
He said that people back home didn’t know what he was going through as he couldn’t feed himself and wife, adding that he borrowed money from friends to renew his wife’s visa every three months.
“I can’t send money home. My parents’ house rent will expire by February 1 and I am to pay N350,000. My children’s school fees are also there. My life has been in frustration since June last year. I appeal to both the UAE and Nigeria to hold a dialogue and resolve whatever the matter is. They should consider the families of Nigerians in the UAE who have died since this issue started. They should think about those who had returned to Nigeria due to inability to feed, make visa renewal and pay rent in the UAE. They should also consider those still in the country and undergoing harrowing times. We will appreciate immediate intervention from the Nigerian government,’’ he said dismally, resigning weakly to fate.