Friday, June 06, 2008

Cascading Sponsors, Leaving and the Dance of the Rubber Stamps

It might sound like a strange title ... but don't leave yet, all will be revealed.

Cascading Sponsors

Everyone who comes to the United Arab Emirates has either a visitors visa valid for 90 days, a permanent residence visa valid for up to three years or is an illegal immigrant.

For a permanent residence visa you need a job. Your employer is your sponsor. Once you have a sponsor, you can sponsor others.

I am Christina's sponsor. If we had children I would be their sponsor and so it cascades from one primary sponsor to numerous secondary sponsored individuals.

It's a tightly monitored system and a good effort at knowing who is in the country and having some control over what they do. Needless to say, you can't get a driver's licence, bank account, electricity account or anything much else without your sponsor's permission.

Your sponsor is responsible for you while you are here. That sends a shiver down the spine of most sponsors who are, therefore, more inclined to exercise control over their sponsored employees.

When you want to register your vehicle, you get a letter from your sponsor saying you work for them and have a contract etc. No letter, nothing happens. Period.

Rubber Stamps

Now, a letter here (also known as a certificate, clearance certificate etc) is not just a letter. To be valid it simply MUST have a rubber stamp imprint (like a seal) on the front of it and be an original. Anything without a stamped imprint that is not an original is just a piece of paper.

It's actually one of the few things done here that makes any real sense to me as it reduces the opportunity for fraud considerably. It also keeps thousands of Indians in jobs making rubber stamps ... and probably thousands more actually using them ... but I digress.

When you leave here you get an exit list from your sponsor and you have to get a stamped clearance certificate from places linked to your sponsor to show that you leave without any liability. This is my "Dance of the Rubber Stamps"!

Leaving the UAE (Harder than arriving)

Like you, I have a few Rules for Living that I try to abide by. Mine are based essentially on Buddhist philosophy and include doing as you would be done by (also a Christian/Muslim ethic). Therefore I always endeavour to:
  1. Treat others with courtesy and never be rude (especially to those considered underdogs)
  2. Be tolerant of others, even when they are the most stupid f%$#ing people on the planet (there's truck loads of them here!)
  3. Never unduly get my knickers in a twist over anything (based on the premise that if you wouldn't worry about it in 100 years, why worry now)

However, I have to tell you that even though I have been pissed about by experts for decades, restructured dozens of times, downsized, upsized, and dealt with more than a fair share of dickheads who were police clients, I've been very close to losing the plot recently. Probably closer than ever.

It's all because of he Dance of the Rubber Stamps.

When you leave, you have to cancel your various accounts like power and water, banking, have your house inspected, transfer the registration of your cars, cancel personal loans etc. This could and should be easy, but as is the way here, it isn't. In almost every case you need some type of document as proof with ... yes, you guessed it, a rubber stamp impression.

The problem is that nobody knows exactly what you want or how to do it. Even though tens of thousands of people leave the country and probably hundreds in the HCT leave every year, there is no solid systematic, fireproof procedure that anyone can tell you about.

Even the HCT staff responsible for these things give you a bum steer.

Most organizations tell half the story. So you go to one branch of the Al Ain Distribution Authority and can't finish your business because you didn't bring a photocopy of an identification document. You go to the another branch and nobody even asks you for such a copy, so you toss it in the bin as you leave.

In some cases the clearance document can't be made at the time, so you are asked to come back later to collect it. You've already driven for 10 minutes either way through Cannon-Ball Express traffic, risking life and limb just to visit the office once ... why would anyone sane do it again? But you go back and often go back again to pick up pieces of paper.

They can't be faxed, they can't be posted, you just have to go with the flow. At times it tests your mettle to the limit, as it did mine. On one occasion recently I had been to the office of a bank on five separate occasions. Finally, I had to collect a clearance certificate and five cheques of mine that had been unused. When I drove in the sixth time, the clearance letter was there, but not the cheques. When the "customer service officer" asked me to come back later to collect it that he couldn't possibly post it, I thought:

"Do you think I sit about on my fat ass all day just waiting for you to call me to come in an pick up a piece of effing paper?"

But fortunately said, "I don't know how you make a profit here. You aren't very good at what you do."

There are several other occasions I could tell you about, but I think you get the drift. The good thing is that it's almost done now and while I have gotten stressed and finished up with a headache, I have managed to remain dignified.

In the end, it's all part of the experience. And after all, wasn't that what we came for?

Only two weeks to go.


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