Arrested and Expelled

Sent On: 
Sun, 2018-09-30
Newsletter Number: 

Photo By: Rachel Mabala (Source:​


Egypt is economically stronger than many African countries, and as a result, many Africans come to Egypt in search for work. Days ago, Kenyan national Eve was arrested because Egyptian authorities discovered that her visa had been fake. She is now in a police cell waiting for expulsion. Eve’s story is not unique. It shows how difficult it is for Egypt to properly manage migration. It also shows that there are those who take advantage of this situation by selling fake visas. That is truly the category of people that should be caught and punished.


Eve arrived in Egypt in 2015 on a tourist visa, and managed to find work as a domestic worker. Black Africans are known to be clean and hard-workers, so therefore some families in the higher income sector prefer them over Egyptian workers. The payment is on average 5000 EgP per month (vacations are usually not paid). Many stay in the employer’s home where they receive food and drink, but this also means they are always on standby for whenever the employer needs them. Working conditions are also not ideal; domestic workers work six days per week for very long hours. The word “overtime” does not exist. Yet, being able to send money home makes domestic workers accept these working conditions.


It is extremely difficult for families to obtain a work permit for these workers. However, tourist visas can easily be extended to three and sometimes six months (depending on nationality). Once a tourist visa expires, the person is required to go home and apply for a new visa, but this means travel costs and time which is not ideal for the families that hire these domestic workers. The domestic workers themselves don’t like this either since they are in Egypt to save money for family at home. Thus, they try to minimize the costs of living as much as possible.


I have heard of Egyptian lawyers and others who sell fake visas. Eve says she met a year ago with an American student named Nancy who told her she could help with the visa process for $530, a significant sum of money for the lower income brackets in Egypt. Eve agreed, gave this woman her passport and had it returned with a visa that later turned out to be fake. Eve, obviously believing in the legitimacy of the visa, later traveled on this visa for family reasons to Kenya. No one at Cairo airport, neither departure nor return, saw that the visa was fake. But the fake visa “expired” and Eve went to the Mugammaʿ, a huge administrative building in downtown Cairo, for the renewal of her visa. There they compare visas in passports to the records they have. It turned out that this visa was false. Eve was arrested, placed in a police cell and tried. Her earlier travel to Kenya made it clear that she was not aware that the visa she had was falsified, and thus it did not become a criminal charge.


All domestic workers know the risks of working in Egypt. Egypt charges fees for overstaying one’s tourism visa. That sum is small if it only concerns a few months, but that sum becomes much larger if one has overstayed his or her visa for one or more years, and such people are here in Egypt. That is another reason why the trade in falsifications exists.


I have also heard about other falsifications, such as birth certificates from West-African countries. No doubt there must be a lively trade in such falsifications. Of course, Egypt tries to fight that, but it is hard. Economic pressures in many African countries compel women in particular to try and find jobs as domestic workers in Egypt, and as long as there is a demand for them and these women are able to make savings for family back home, they will continue to come to Egypt. These women then experience difficulties in renewing their visa and thus are ready to pay for any “help” in order to stay longer in the job they have obtained. Others try to stay without a visa under the radar, or claim that they have lost their passports.


Of course, Egypt wants to protect its own labor market, but as long as there is a demand for such domestic women in Egypt, authorities won’t be able to stop this. Wouldn’t it be easier to release the pressure on these domestic workers and the Egyptian police by making it easier to obtain a work permit and then tax these workers and know where they are in the country? If the taxation is not too high, Egyptian employers of these domestic workers would gladly pay this, as it would give them a greater sense of assurance in the status of the domestic workers they hire. The domestic workers would also prefer this, as it would reduce their risks.


Being arrested and placed in a police cell is no laughing matter. People who have had a falsified visa or overstayed their visa for a long period of time are not just expelled. They need to pay for their fines first and buy their own ticket before they can leave the country. The prisoners are separated; men stay with many other men in one cell and women stay with other women in a cell.  Food and drinks are hardly provided, and the arrested people depend on support from their personal network. Visits are possible, but a visitor needs to have a valid residence in Egypt. If food and drinks are given, other women or men tend to jump on the poor person who received the food and wrench it out of their hands. Eve was lucky, as the police allowed a group of visitors to see her for one hour, during which she could eat and drink, enough to survive to the following day. But woe to the people who lack the network to support them whilst in a cell.


Domestic workers often help each other, but once one of them gets caught this is not always the case. The true criminals, the people falsifying visas and other documents, are unfortunately almost never caught. I would wish that Egyptian authorities would design better procedures to keep these kinds of abuses under control.



Cairo, September 30, 2018


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report