Contrary to a claim by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Abuja that the suspension of issuance of travel documents to Nigeria was due to COVID-19, Nigerians living in the Emirates say all those whose work permit were not renewed have been asked to leave the oil-rich Middle East country on Thursday.
The affected Nigerians, who spoke to SaharaReporters, confirmed what a travel agency had earlier posted on social media that all previously issued visas to Nigerians had become invalid and that those living in the country would have their visas revoked.
The UAE's embassy in Abuja, however, denied the claims by Flyworld Travel and Tour, insisting that the visa suspension was due to COVID-19.
"I came in on a two-year visa and got a job," said a Nigerian who did not want to be named for fear of being tracked by the Emirates' security. "When my visa expired, my employer tried to renew it, but the company said the application bounced back and there is nothing they can do."
He said he would soon lose his accommodation and would be forced to return to Nigeria.
"Many of us are using the money we make here to help our families back home. If we are forced to return, we will be joining a growing number of unemployed persons. The Nigerian government should help us negotiate with the Emirates," he said.
Another Nigerian, who spoke to SaharaReporters, said he had purchased his flight ticket to Nigeria.
"We have reached out to the UAE immigration officials. They say they do not know what is happening. We have called the Nigerian embassy; they keep refusing to pick our calls or respond to our emails," said the Nigerian, who had just received an employment offer from an oil company that pays better than his former job.
He said if the office of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, does not rescind the directives to empty the country of Nigerians, he would not be able to accept the new job offer.
"I just got a new job with an oil company. After three days, my boss came back to me and said the company could renew my visa and I would have to leave. I am staying in the accommodation provided by the former company for now."
While the two Nigerians still have their accommodation, another Nigerian worker who has been in the Emirates for four years has lost his.
"I got a job better than the previous one, yet I'm unable to join the company," he said. "They are not issuing work permits or any type of visa. I had to go bunk with a friend because I couldn't afford to be paying rent since I'm not working."
The Nigerian migrant workers wondered why they were being discriminated against in the Emirates.
"They are renewing the travel papers of other nationalities; it is only Nigerians that they are doing this to. I know many Nigerians do crazy things, but they should not tar innocent people with the same brush as well. When Pakistanis and other Asians do terrible stuff, they don't treat them like this," one of the affected Nigerians said.
They told SaharaReporters that the Nigerian embassy in Abu Dhabi has not been responding to inquiries.
The Nigerian embassy in the UAE and the Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission have not responded to SaharaReporters' requests for comment on the plight of Nigerian immigrants in UAE as of press time.