SHANGLA: The workers who returned home from Gulf countries before and during the Covid-19 pandemic are finding it hard to earn a living for their families as their visas and work permits have expired.

Saleemur Rehman of Punyal area of Shangla worked in a company in Bahrain for 15 years before returning home in January 2020 for a well-deserved break of seven months.

Within a few months of his return to Pakistan, he got a call from the company’s management, telling him that his visa had expired and he could no more be accommodated in the firm.

Mr Rehman said the management told him that the company had run into deficit due to the pandemic, and thus was unable to renew his visa and buy ticket for him to keep his position as a storekeeper.

Noorul Bashar of Guli Butt area, and Mohammad Jehan of Bankad are of Kohistan also lost their jobs with the same company.

The construction company in Bahrain had once 3,000 men from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, but fired all of them after they had travelled home, and later sent them their outstanding dues.

The case of Tauseef Ahmed from Shangla is not different either. He came home on Nov 15, 2019 for a long vacation but then the governments suspended flights between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after cases of Covid-19 peaked in May-June 2020. He got stuck which caused expiration of his visa.

“After resumption of flights in August 2020, I regularly contacted my kafeel who had promised renewal of my visa, but instead cancelled it on August 18,” he said.

Mohammad Yousaf of Battagram district, who also lost job in the Kingdom, said he came home on a seven-month vacation, but due to suspension of flights his visa got expired. “Now my kafeel is asking for 16,000 Saudi Riyals to buy a new visa, ticket and renewal of Iqama.

Usman, who came home nine months ago, said the company he worked with in Dubai frequently called him to reach the workplace, but he could not travel due to his ‘red travel status’ imposed by the UAE’s Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (FAIC).

“My company manager regularly calls me to visit the agency and check the status. I have also sent my Covid-19 test report to the company which it has submitted to the FAIC. I am still visiting the agency to check my travel status to see when it will turn green,” Usman said.

Fayaz Khan, a travel agency owner in Shangla, said he had around 30 pending cases of his UAE-bound consumers whose status was still red at the FAIC website.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic and start of flight operations in Pakistan, the status of only four of my customers has turned green, who have travelled back to UAE,” he pointed out.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2021

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