The title is not clickbait, is something that has happened to me, and I believe it to be one of the scariest time of my life.
Among the things that can happen in life, your freedom being taken away is definitely one of the scariest things that can ever happen to you.
A passport document is not the individual’s property but it is owned by the country who has issued it. Because of that, another country cannot legally take your passport away, yes they can deport you, forbid you from entering their country and so on, but it's illegal for a foreign country to hold your passport hostage. However, some countries, still do.
Dubai might be one of the most amazing places in the world, but when it comes to rules and bureaucracy it can be an extremely strict, scary and corrupted place.
The primary rule is that there are no rules and local citizen are always considered more important than any tourists or ex-pats.
I lived there for 5 years and almost immediately realized how different things were.
If you suddenly lose your job and fail to pay your bills, your passport can be detained for an indefinite time, and you could end up stuck in the country for years to come, even forever. I had friends whose passport had been taken away for 2-3 years and heard stories of people who never got it back. Once your visa expires the fines keep going up and some people are never able to pay them back. You will face a 125AED fine on the first day that you overstay in the country and 25 AED every following day, for a max of 6 months, after that, fees will rise. If you fail to pay the fines, you will not be able to leave the country until you set your debt.
At the time, I desperately needed a visa, and I was looking to invest in a business. This way is the most common way which most of the ex-pats do.
I managed to be part of a company, which I joined as an investor, and after a few months, I had my visa. To understand how things escalated, you have to know how an LLC in Dubai is formed. To start a company you will need a local sponsor native of the UAE to sign and be part of the company, you need a manager and then all the rest of sponsors and employees.
When we went to the court to sign for the company documents I met our sponsor and the other investor in the company. Everything seemed smooth even if I never really trusted our manager, I just had a gut feeling that he had been doing something quite shady throughout the whole process since the time he asked me to sign a power of attorney document, which I never did, but when after a year nothing really happened I just let my fears go.
After some time, I received a call from the manager asking to go to court and sign some documents to change our local sponsor. Little did I know that this decision would be the start of a lot of issues.
New rules took place in the UAE, and I needed to get the trade licence for my company to apply for my health insurance. When I proceeded to inquire about it, I discovered that the new sponsor put a "block" on the company, which meant the business impossibility to continue to operate.
I panicked, mostly when I discovered that the company's license renewal hadn't been paid, and I wasn't sure what that meant for my visa status. Considering I had already spent about 17.000 AED to be part of the company, and a part of it had been used to pay the previous sponsor I had no other way to afford more expenses.
I proceeded to call the sponsor, which I never previously spoke a word to. He seemed aggravated since the start and told me that we should meet to "solve the problem".
The meeting was held in a mall in Dubai where the local sponsor and his alleged "lawyer" proceeded to threaten and blackmail me. If I didn't come up with another 17.000 AED they would have reported me and have my passport taken. How was that possible? I hadn't done anything wrong!! The manager owed the sponsor some money and now the latter was doing everything to get them, even if it meant lying and stealing.
A year went by, and despite all my attempts to talk it through and explain I wasn’t an accomplice to the manager, and that I had nothing to do with him, there was no way to convince and calm the sponsor down, which only cared to fill his pockets at all costs.
I decided to give up, after a few failed attempts to get help from a lawyer, until the time came when my grandpa passed, and I wanted to go home to mourn and spend time with my family members.
I got through customs, and they immediately sent me to the immigration office, where a few police officers locked my passport away without an explanation.
The policemen were really apologetic and understanding when I explained my whole story, but they had to do their job.
When they saw me desperate, and in tears, one of them slipped through a note and told me to call that number.
In the few days that followed, a very well connected man helped me to get my passport back in only 4 days frame time. God was on my side! All my prayers had been answered.
The letter that the immigration gave to me at the airport, was entirely written in Arabic, so I wasn't able to understand what was happening to me and why.
I later found out that the sponsor had lied by telling the police that I was refusing to cancel my visa, and that's why they took my passport. The reality was, it had been a whole year of me begging and offering to pay my part to close the company and endure any expense to end my visa.
Finally, the nightmare was over, and I was free again and able to see my family. And for the sponsor? Oh well, he didn't get a cent! And what's more, he had to pay all the company fines because of his stubbornness!
If you are complaining because lockdown has taken away your freedom, remember that for you it's only a temporary situation and that there are people that will never get it back. When you get a taste of that medicine, and you're stuck in an unknown situation, only at that moment that you understand how precious your liberty is.