Requirements for visas and work permits for the UAE differ depending on the employee’s nationality. Many countries’ nationals are allowed to enter the UAE without having to make an application before they travel. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals (citizens from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait) can enter the country without a visa. Other nationals can apply for one of the available entry visas online. Like many other nations, the UAE protects its borders and workforce with strict regulations, though it is also a welcoming country. In September 2022, changes to the Federal Decree-Law on Entry and Residence of Foreigners came into effect for visitors, potential employees, and investors to make the UAE a more accessible and attractive location.
The United Arab Emirates was formed as a federation in 1971 with the agreement of the seven heads of the Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain and Ajman. The UAE is a young country with a population of around ten million and nearly nine million expatriates. The UAE shows an impressive literacy rate, especially among women, and is the first country to appoint a minister for artificial intelligence. Fifty years ago, the economy of this bright star of the Middle East was based on fishing and harvesting pearls. Since discovering oil, the UAE’s transformation has put them on a par with the top western European countries for GDP. The strong economy, tax-exempt free zones, a business-oriented infrastructure, and quality of life are significant attractions for companies expanding into the country. But cultural differences can be a challenge.
Companies bringing foreigners into the Emirates from their home country or elsewhere should ensure they have the correct documentation, as they will function as their employees’ sponsors.
Work Documentation required:
This Visa allows entry for a particular reason and stays for a certain period. They can be paper or electronic and applied for before leaving the home country or received upon arrival, depending on nationality. GCC citizens do not require an entry permit. Some of the new visas introduced will not require a sponsor. Most entry permits have a validity of 60 days; therefore, holders must travel before the end of this period. Visas about employment are generally ‘sponsored’ by employers. Also, foreigners fall into three categories depending on their educational qualifications or specialist skill:
This affects the fees the hiring company pays for work permits. The main types of entry permits include:
There are 12 new visa types as part of the new ‘Entry and Residence Scheme’ in 2022, including an updated Golden Visa (residence visa) for investors for three years with AED 5 million (EUR 1.30 million – USD 1.36 million) in property or funds, or five and ten years available for more significant investments. These include a 10-year Golden Visa for highly specialised and talented people and visas for family members. Other new Golden Visa categories for 2022 include:
There are, moreover, changes to the UAE Green Visa, which gives a five-year residence and no requirement for an employer or sponsor. These are available to skilled workers, the self-employed and freelancers, but there are minimum requirements for salary and education as with the Golden Visa.
For companies hiring foreigners from abroad, the Employment Visa allows employees to enter for work purposes. The employer gives them an offer of employment with all relevant details, which is submitted to the MOHRE for approval within 14 days. The employer also applies for a ‘quota’ for the Work Permit to MOHRE. MOHRE issues a Pre-approval Work Permit and the Employment Entry Permit.
The Work Permit comes under MOHRE for those foreigners employed by incorporated businesses in the private sector; exceptions are the Free Zones companies. The employer applies to sponsor a Work Permit for the employee and requests a quota to employ foreigners. On approval, MOHRE issues a Pre-approval Work Permit and Employment Entry Permit. When the employee arrives in the UAE, the contract is submitted within 14 days of arrival to MOHRE, and the employer applies for the Residence Visa, organises a health check and obtains the Emirates Card before the Work Permit is formalised, which is the proof that workers are legal in the UAE.
To qualify for a Residence Visa, applicants must:
Foreigners are issued the Residence Visa after arriving on an employment entry permit. The duration depends on the Work Permit. With a sponsor – up to three years, self-sponsored residence visas for five or ten years. There are several benefits, such as opening a bank account and applying for a driving license.
This card is legally required to be held by all UAE residents and must always be carried. This is necessary to apply for government services and immigration purposes. It is the primary UAE ID and, as of 2022, should also include the Residence Visa for foreigners. It holds biometrics and a digital signature and operates as a smart card. It contains protected personal details.
Note: Employers sponsoring workers apply and pay for the Employment Visa, the Residence Visa and related Work Permit. The responsible authority for the Emirates ID card is the Federal Authorities for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Ports Security (ICP).
Foreigners require specific documentation to work in the UAE. From April 2022, changes were made to some rules and regulations concerning work documentation and residence visas, to be implemented by September. Also, there have been changes to the National ID Card, and February 2022 saw a New Labour Law implemented. The required documentation for foreigners coming from abroad is as follows:
1. The employee can work after receiving the pre-approval of the work permit and arriving in the UAE, providing all the pertinent processes are being undertaken towards formalising the work permit.
2. The employer handles and pays for these documents.
3. It is illegal under the Labour Law for employers to hold employees’ passports at the company.
4. The Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Ports Security ‘Customer Happiness Centres’ issue the Emirates ID, take biometrics and inform where individuals can find the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, which handle the Residence Visa.
Residence Visa – When a foreigner is hired from abroad by a company that has organised an employment visa and work permit, the employer applies for the Residence Visa after the employee arrives in the country. The validity depends on the employment contract, which can be from one to three years. Employees must:
Green Visa – is an Entry Visa and Residence Visa, part of a 2022 initiative that allows highly-skilled foreigners to work in the UAE without needing a sponsor. Check the link for details, benefits and eligibility.
Emirates ID Card – All citizens and residents living and working in the UAE require a government-issued ID Card. This is issued on approval of the Residence Visa because, as of 2022, the Emirates ID Card replaces the Residence Visa stamp and contains all relevant details.
The employer applies and pays for the work documentation for legally incorporated businesses in the private sector hiring employees from abroad. There have been many changes during 2021 and 2022 regarding Work Permits, Entry Visas and Residence Visas, and Labour Law. So, it is essential to keep up to date with planned updates as the UAE pushes toward further digitalisation. This is where assistance is needed from a Professional Employer Organization such as Bradford Jacobs, with 20 years of experience in all aspects of recruiting, visas, permits and placing staff in companies.
On behalf of the employees:
From the employers:
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