The sponsorship phenomenon

Each and every individual who enters the United Arab Emirates needs a visa -- and these ain't available at the friendly, neighbourhood embassy. No sir, they have to be provided by some resident or organisation in the country. In short, you need a sponsor. The idea is to have a safety net, someone to blame if the guy who enters on your sponsorship does not leave. A resident is allowed to bring in only his immediate family for a visit; the visa is normally for a month and can be renewed for two more. Those who earn more than 6,000 dirhams (3.67 dirhams is equal to one American dollar) can sponsor a maid; they would also have to pay her a minimum salary of 400 dirhams a month and an equal amount to the government.

Transit visas are allowed only for companies; the visa enables one to stay for 14 days and costs much more than the visit visa. The sponsorship culture persists - here the owner of the company is liable if the visitor overstays or goes underground. The locals are each granted a set number of visas for their own personal use -- for a maid, gardener, cook, driver, etc and most of them sell these visas to eager expats from the subcontinent. The man or woman enters on a driver's visa and then starts working as an engineer, which is what he is! Illegal, sure, but then this is one way to ensure that the locals have a ready source of income. The funny thing is that if the man is caught, then he pays the price -- deportation. The seller of the visa may be reprimanded at best.

Thus, a kind of sponsorship culture has developed. One needs somebody to promote oneself else progress up the corporate or any other kind of ladder is impossible. The man who provides the push more often than not does so because of some common factor, be it race, religion or language. Overt racism is this very much a part of life but it is officially sanctioned -- there are clubs which will not admit Asians, turning them away on the pretext of not being members. A white man can gain admission, though. There is no place where one can seek redress for problems such as this.

Getting anything done is always easier when a common factor exists; if the counter clerk at the airline office happens to speak your language, chances are your work will get done much faster. In a society such as this, people identify each other as tribes did in the desert and the unfamiliar and unknown is shunned. Precedent is always the best route to avoid trouble.

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