Thousands of Indians are travelling to the UAE after flight restrictions into the country eased for residents and visitors.
Many have been reunited with family after six months apart following a travel ban announced in April to stem the spread of Covid-19.
It has been an emotional return to a country they call home.
For many, it is a fresh start as they find new jobs.
Travel agents have said thousands more will return over the next month as residents continue to wait for the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship or the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs to approve their entry to the Emirates.
Fresh start with a new job
For Biswarup Das, it was an emotional homecoming. On Sunday, he travelled from Kolkata to Dubai and he hopes to rebuild his life.
The engineer, 42, was working in the petrochemical industry until December when he was let go. He returned to India in February.
He found a new job in April, but grew anxious when regular passenger flights from India to the UAE were suspended.
“We have faced a lot because of corona. Companies reduced manpower and cut salaries,” he said.
Mr Das is thankful for the support from a travel agency and people online who answered all his questions about approvals and Covid-19 testing.
“They were my saviours. They asked me not to do anything in a hurry but wait until things became clearer,” he said.
Initially, entry from India was limited to specific categories – those with golden visas, UAE citizens and people working in diplomatic missions.
Mr Das is now counting the days until wife and two-year-old son can join him in the UAE.
“I’m on cloud nine to be back. Coming back, I finally have a ray of hope,” he said.
Thousands more are travelling to the UAE
Sudheesh TP, general manager of Deira Travel, said large numbers of people were expected to return.
“Once all limitations like approvals are lifted, people will flock back,” he said.
“It will take a month to clear the backlog.”
The agency worked with airlines to obtain clearance from authorities for health workers and teachers. Cases were made on “humanitarian grounds” for young children to return to the UAE.
“We submitted documents to the airlines who forwarded it to the authorities for approvals. We filtered requests to check these were genuine. Authorities have been flexible in cases of family reunions,” he said.
Travel agencies said passenger traffic from India was about 40 per cent of the levels before the pandemic started.
The frequency of flights has been cut as part of the air bubble agreement between nations that allows regulated travel during the pandemic.
Mr Sudheesh is upbeat about a rise in travel during Expo 2020 Dubai.
“We are anticipating more travel from the end of September. By then, the number of residents waiting to return will come down and visit visas will go up,” he said.
“There is a big community that has been isolated from travel waiting to start travelling again.”
Short break became eight-month separation
Mona Lisa Priyadarshini was thrilled to be back in time to celebrate her daughter’s one-year birthday this week.
A planned three-month break in Cuttack, eastern India, to treat a medical condition turned into prolonged stay since January.
“Now life is back on track,” she said.
She travelled with her three-year-old son and infant daughter to India in January.
“The children were missing their father. My son can go to school, he is so excited to get on the bus,” she said.
India has been one of the worst-affected nations in the world and Covid-19 has taken its toll on the public as the number of infections remains high.
The country registered 38,948 new coronavirus infections on Monday while the death toll climbed to 440,752 after 219 fatalities were reported.
“Family members, cousins, friends in India have died because of Covid. We lost so many people, we have lost count,” Ms Priyadarshini said.
“Every day we watched the news, desperate to come back. Every day, I would hope tomorrow flight bookings will start. It was overwhelming. I wanted to keep the children safe so we barely stepped out.”
Jasmine Lewis also travelled to Bangalore in January for a short holiday with her young son when her husband changed jobs.
She planned to return with a new residency visa. But the flight ban was extended and she was unable to return.
She decided against travelling to another country to enter quarantine, a route taken by thousands of other residents desperate to get back to the UAE.
“I sent so many emails and Twitter messages, and called social workers and travel agents to find out how I could return,” she said.
When flights resumed last month, residents with existing residency visas got ICA or GDRFA approval but there was no option for people with new entry permits
Ms Lewis was eventually allowed entry last week on humanitarian grounds.
“I kept telling people I have lived in Dubai for eight years. We usually went to India for 15-day holidays, this was the first time we were away for so long. My baby kept asking for his father,” she said.
“My luggage was packed since April. I thought as soon as flights open, I’m ready to travel. I can’t express my happiness when I saw my husband. My baby literally screamed at the airport.”
Back in time for schools reopening
Many residents are relieved to have made it back to the UAE in time for face-to-face classes to resume in schools.
Deepak Khera approached immigration officials, phoned call centres and submitted letters from a school confirming his wife’s employment to ensure she was back in time.
The insurance adviser sponsored his wife and when he changed jobs a few months ago, her visa was cancelled. She went to India, with the intention of returning on a new entry permit.
Since GDRFA approvals were not available for new entry visas, the school letter helped her to secure an “OK to board” certificate in Delhi.
Mr Khera’s wife returned days before schools opened on August 29.
“The waiting caused a lot of stress,” he said.
“I feel relaxed now that she is back.”
Family support for working parents
Febin Sillumon is another UAE resident who is relieved that his family can visit again.
His aunt travelled to Dubai last Friday on a visit visa from Kerala to help care for his one-year-old son Abram.
His wife works as a nurse and had to return to work recently. They prefer to leave the child with family instead of a babysitter.
“We were a little nervous until we actually saw her at the airport. We were not sure if everything would work out,” he said.
“It is really a big relief for us to have family here in these times.”
Updated: September 7th 2021, 5:16 AM