Authority Lifts Fines on Diaspora with Expired Visas


It has been charging three dollars a day for stays after visa expiry




The government has exempted Ethiopian diaspora from fines imposed when they overstay their visits to the country.

Two weeks ago the Main Department for Immigration & Nationality Affairs, which operates under the National Intelligence & Security Service, lifted the fines imposed on expired visas held by Ethiopian-born non-nationals. The decision was made after deliberation by the immigration office and the security service.

The main reason for the suspension of fines is the recurrent grievances from the diaspora community, according to Gedamu Mekonnen, head of Foreign Service at the immigration office.

“We have been receiving complaints from the diaspora, who were compelled to pay high fees for expired visas,” he said.

The institution had been imposing a three dollar fine for each day after the expiration of the visa. The fee was collected at the airport when they arrived to make their return journeys back to their resident countries.

Most of the diaspora overstay their visits without obtaining an origin card, which grants residency privileges to stay in the country. This may be due to lack of information, according to Gedamu.

“There are some who stay in the country for over eight years with an expired visa without obtaining an origin card,” Gedamu said.

The fine used to be made in dollars and anyone with currency other than a dollar was supposed to settle the fine by converting the notes into dollars.

“This led them to go looking for dollars in the black market,” Gedamu said.

The new reforms at the immigration office includes easing the hassle that the diaspora community faces in securing the origin ID card. They were required to bring birth certificates and authenticated documents from their resident countries to obtain the origin card. However, the office has exempted these requirements and started providing them with the origin cards if they can present three witnesses.

About 3.5 million to four million members of the Ethiopian diaspora live abroad, with most of them residing in North America and Canada. On average, various institutions serve about 400 members of the diaspora on a daily basis.

These new reforms address a source of disappointment in the Ethiopian diaspora community, which have been crying foul about the inefficiency of services at the agency. In the past year and a half, the office has undergone major reforms, including the creation of a separate desk for non-nationals, the opening of three additional offices across the country, shortening the time it takes to issue passports and starting an online service for visas.

Travelers holding passports from 37 countries can be issued visas on arrival or can obtain visas through e-visa services, which allows them to apply, pay and secure their document online.

The office has also facilitated payments for passports to be made through the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and has delegated the Ethiopian Postal Service to handle new and renewed passports.

The immigration office is also in the process of opening a new branch in Assosa, capital of the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State, in September 2019. In addition to the new Assosa office, three other centers were opened since May in Adama, Jigiga and Semera. This brings the total number of field offices to 10 including Hawassa, Dire Dawa, Jimma, Dessie, Bahir dar and Meqelle.

“The exemption does not set a deadline,” Gedamu told Fortune.



By YARED NIGUSSIE
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

Published on Sep 29,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 961]


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