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.

The different types of Visas and Work Permits for the UAE

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:

  • Entry Permit / Employment Visa
  • Work Permit a.k.a., Labour Card
  • Residence Visa
  • Emirates ID a.k.a., Resident Identity Card

Entry Permit

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:

  • Category 1 – a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • Category 2 – secondary diplomas or similar in any sector
  • Category 3 – high school certificates

This affects the fees the hiring company pays for work permits. The main types of entry permits include:

  • Employment (or Pink Visa) – to enter for work purposes
  • Tourists or to Transit –  A tourist visa from 2022 allows travellers to stay from 60-120 days. The New five-year Tourist Visa gives visitors from 90 to 180 days per year, including for certain business activities. Proof of funds equivalent to AED 14,690 – €3,838, US$ 4,000 required (Sept.2022)
  • Exploring Employment (Sept. 2022) – to attract highly skilled professionals (no sponsor or hosting company is required). Education should be to degree standard and conform to other conditions.
  • Business – To allow investors looking to start a company to explore the country and its business opportunities. No sponsor or hosting company is required.

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:

  • For professionals
  • For scientists
  • For entrepreneurs

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.

Employment 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.

Work Permit a.k.a. Labour Card

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.

Residence Visas

To qualify for a Residence Visa, applicants must:

  • Be employed in the UAE by an incorporated company.
  • Be employed by the UAE government.
  • Be business investors.
  • Own property in the UAE.

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.

Emirates ID Card

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). 

How to Obtain Visas and Work Permits for the UAE

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:

  • Employment Entry Permit (Visa)
  • Work Permit (Labour Card)
  • Residence Visa
  • Emirates ID Card

Steps for working in UAE

  • The employee receives a job offer letter from a private sector incorporated company. The employer sponsors the employee and manages the work documentation.
  • A Formal Offer Letter should include all employment details as the New Labour Law requires. The employee and employer sign, after which the letter becomes the legal contract and is submitted to the Ministry of Human Resources ad Emiratisation (MOHRE) for authorisation. This offer has to be in Arabic and English and can be translated into one of nine languages.
  • The employer should have a ‘work permit quota allotment’ from the MOHRE to employ foreigners.
  • The employer applies on behalf of the employee for the Work Permit.
  • MOHRE grants a Pre-Approval Work Permit and issues the Employment Entry Permit so the employee can travel to the UAE. It is valid for two months, during which the employee must use the visa and has 60 days to complete all other formalities.
  • After the foreigner arrives, the contract document must be submitted to MOHRE within 14 days to formalise the Work Permit. The labour contract is uploaded by MOHRE and can be tracked and downloaded as required.
  • The employee must take a medical check and have fingerprints and a photograph taken (biometrics) to complete the Emirates Identity Card, including residence visa details, which can be received after 48 hours.
  • After the medical screening and receiving the ID Card, the Work Permit can be formalised.


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.

Eligibility to work and employ foreigners in the UAE

  • Have a valid passport.
  • Be over 18 years old.
  • The hiring employer must be registered with MOHRE and have received a registration number.
  • The company must have no infringements.
  • The employee’s work experience should match the company’s area of operation.
  • The employer requires a quota for employing foreigners. New regulations in 2022 brought further instructions regarding quotas.
  • As a condition of Work Permit Approval, MOHRE will check that no Emirati can do the job (Labour Market Test).
  • Before going to the Emirates, the educational qualifications of the employee should be notarised at a local UAE embassy or consulate, and their vaccination certificates validated.

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:

  • Be over 18.
  • Have a medical examination for fitness and to check for HIV etc.
  • Obtain an Emirates ID Card from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.

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.

How to Apply Visas and Work Permits for the UAE

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.

Work Documentation

  • Employment Visa/Entry Permit, which takes between two and seven days
  • Work Permit. Initially, a pre-approval is granted to issue the entry permit through the MOHRE
  • Residence Visa issued when the employee enters UAE after medical screening and biometrics taken
  • Emirate ID Card, which will include details of Residency Visa

Required Documentation

On behalf of the employees:

  • A valid passport for six months from the date of entry.
  • Passport photographs in line with guidelines and biometrics.
  • Any educational or technical qualifications notarised by the local consulate or Embassy in the country of residence.
  • They may be asked for references from previous employers.
  • Entry visa from the MOHRE.
  • Results from medical screening.
  • Pre-approval for the work permit from MOHRE detailing salary, entitlements, conditions etc., as per the New Labour Law.

From the employers: 

  • Company e-Signature Card.
  • Commercial license.
  • Valid insurance card for the employee.
  • Labour contract, three copies, which can be downloaded online.
  • Application forms can be downloaded to be completed and signed.
  • Different documentation may be needed for the seven Emirates, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman. Also, some nationalities may be asked for further paperwork.


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