The United Arab Emirates, a major hub for migrant labourers, on Wednesday began an amnesty for workers who entered the country without a visa or overstayed their work permit.
The government said those who entered the UAE illegally or overstayed their visas and who come forward by October 31 would not be fined or charged if they choose to leave the country voluntarily.
The amnesty also grants those looking for employment a six-month visa to find a job.
It excludes, however, those who are ‘blacklisted’ or with legal cases pending.
The UAE, the fourth largest oil producer in the OPEC oil cartel, is home to a huge workforce from Asia and Africa.
Like other wealthy Gulf states, the UAE is often criticised by human rights groups for its treatment of expatriate labourers, but it has taken steps to address alleged abuses.
Official statistics for 2016 show the UAE’s labour force to be 6.3 million, out of a population of 9.1 million.
While the government does not release figures on the nationalities of the workforce, most are believed to be foreigners.
The UAE press published testimonies of blue collar labourers who had come forward for the amnesty Wednesday.
‘Girraj Prasad, 54, from the state of Rajasthan, is the first Indian who cleared all the procedures to get exemptions from fines to leave the country without a ban,’ the Gulf News daily reported.
Prasad, who had worked as a tile cutter, told the daily his visa expired because his employers had failed to file papers to renew his residency.