UAE visa changes bring joy to separated families offered chance to reunite
Devoted father Albert Sabado has missed far too many birthday celebrations in recent years.
The Filipino sales and public relations officer has lived in the UAE for 23 years and for most of this time he had to do so without his beloved wife and three children by his side.
Previous visa regulations allowed only employees in only certain professions, such as senior management roles, to sponsor their families.
His wife Mary Joy, 49, who worked as a radiologist, moved from Abu Dhabi back to the Philippines in 2008 following the birth of their son to care for the baby and two older children being looked after until then by relatives.
An overhaul of sponsorship laws in the UAE has now given the family, and many others across the Emirates, the hope of reuniting.
In April, the UAE Cabinet removed the job title criteria for sponsoring dependents, meaning visas can now be issued to residents’ family members based solely on their income bracket.
“Many people from Philippines and India want to bring their families but their wives need to work,” said Mr Sabado, whose earnings have grown to Dh8,000 from Dh2,800 since he took his first job in 1996 as a printing press operator.
Mr Sabado will start the sponsorship application process as soon as he knows the final dates members of his family plan to travel to the UAE.
Under the new rules, a male worker who earns a minimum salary of Dh4,000, or Dh3,000 plus accommodation, can sponsor his wife’s visa in the UAE.
“Once my wife gets a job here again then I’m hoping my son can go to school in Abu Dhabi,” said Mr Sabado.
“My son is young so we can manage this but only if she finds work will it be possible.
“We can all work to earn better for our family.”
The family are already putting plans in motion, with eldest daughter Veronica Mae, 25, hoping to move to the Emirates next month and wife Mary hoping to return before the end of the year.
Daughter Ahllia, 19, will continue her studies in Manila while son Alvin, 11, aims to move to the UAE once his mother finds work and is settled back in the UAE.
He will continue to live with relatives in the Philippines until then.
Before he retires in six years, Mr Sabado wants to settle daughter, Veronica, in a country that has been his home for so long.
“My friends and I have lived here for 25 to 30 years. People don’t want to go home because they are happy with the security here. I want my daughter to work in a place where you can live peacefully.”
While Mr Sabado gears up to welcome his family, others said they have sent relatives home.
“My family was with me for 10 years but I sent them back this year because things got too expensive,” said Hidayatulla, who did not want give his last name and said it was cheaper for him to visit his family in India three times a year.
“My family could have stayed if my wife worked too.”
Rodel, a Filipino customer service agent, said although he met the wage criteria, he could not afford to sponsor his parents.
“I can save that money and send it home rather than get my parents here,” said Rodel, who has worked in the UAE for 10 years and lives in a flat with four others in Dubai's Al Quoz area.
“Medical expenses will be too high in case they fall ill. The reason I work in the UAE is because it would take three months in the Philippines to make what I earn in a month here.”
Some residents said reducing the family residence visa requirement to Dh4,000 was unrealistic as they would need to earn at least Dh6,000 to take care of another family member.
Workers on lower wages typically share an apartment with up to 10 people and cannot afford separate housing that is required to sponsor family.
Financial planning will be critical for new families coming in.
Mr Sabado is well aware his family must stay away from big spending.
Over a dismal 10-year period, he maxed out 13 credit cards, his debt with six banks soared to Dh50,000 and he owed cash to friends after splashing out on electronic gadgets.
He has cleared the bulk of his debt, uses a single credit card and needs to repay the last outstanding amount of Dh800 to one bank.
“You must have discipline,” Mr Sabado tells others in the community.
“I have learnt some important lessons. They (banks) are calling me again and asking me to take a loan for Dh50,000. They want me to increase my credit limit to Dh20,000 but I have said no.
“When I came here my salary was bigger than the Philippines. I felt like a king so I spent a lot. New people must remember to save in case they lose their job. It is no use to work abroad and retire with no savings."
Edgar Bacason, an accountant who co-ordinates financial literacy programmes supported by the Philippine consulate and embassy, said making families financially aware was crucial.
“They need to follow the basics, avoid eating out a lot and spending on expensive goods,” he said.
“New people must be taught about saving immediately so they set aside 10 or 20 per cent of their salary and spend the rest on their basic needs. This can help them weather any situation."
Updated: September 4, 2019 09:16 PM