As a trading and logistics hub, the UAE is often the point for seafarers to embark or disembark their vessels and ensuring a smooth transit for seafarers is dependent on securing the right visa for them. In this article, we examine the visa options for seafarers. Ministerial Decree No. 360 of 1997 (the Executive Regulations) promulgating the executive regulations of Federal Law No. 6 of 1973 (the Immigration Law) has recently been amended by Ministerial Decree No. 569 of 2016. Amongst those articles amended is Article 11, concerning the entry of sailors into the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Article 11 and sets out the means by which the crews working on board foreign registered vessels and those registered in the UAE may enter the country.

As was the case prior to the 2016 amendments, the Executive Regulations provide that a sailor, working on board a vessel which is registered in the UAE but operates deep sea, may only enter the UAE if they hold a valid Seaman's Book and a sailor's card issued by the Federal Transport Authority – Land and Maritime (FTA). In addition to the aforementioned documents, those crew members working on board foreign vessels which are party to a temporary work contract within the UAE (ie in its territorial waters) must also hold a work permit in the UAE before they can enter the country.

Temporary Entry Permits

Further, the Executive Regulations also still permit crew members of both foreign vessels and those registered in the UAE to enter the country on Temporary Entry Permits which are issued by the Immigration office at the port of arrival. Temporary Entry Permits must be applied for by the vessel's agent and applications can only be submitted after the vessel has arrived in the UAE port at which the crew members shall be disembarking.

A Temporary Entry Permit is issued for a variety of reasons, such as to allow a crew member to visit an on shore hospital. Although not all crew members on board the same vessel will be granted a permit at the same time. Once issued, a Temporary Entry Permit is valid for a period of 24 hours, within which time the holder must return to the vessel via the same port and crew members are not permitted to exit the UAE by any other means. Failure to return to their vessel in accordance with the permit will lead to a fine of approximately USD 50 per day of overstay. Furthermore, no other Temporary Entry Permits will be issued to crew members on board the same vessel until the absent crew member returns and any accrued fines are paid.

The cost of a Temporary Entry Permit can vary from port to port and fees will range between USD 20 to USD 50.

Transferring in the same port

In accordance with the Executive Regulations, crew members of foreign vessels and those registered in the UAE are also permitted to transfer between vessels within the limits of the same port when both vessels are in the same port at the same time. This allows crew members to arrive in the UAE on one vessel and to exit on another.

Before crew members can transfer between vessels in this manner, the vessel's agents must obtain the permission of the Immigration office at the relevant port when both vessels have arrived in port and the transfer must be approved by the Captains of both vessels.

Crew Entry Permits

In practice it is common for the crew members of foreign vessels to transfer between vessels which are not due to be in port at the same time and/or are not due to arrive at the same port at all, meaning the transferring of crew members in the manner set out above is somewhat impractical.

However, Ministerial Decree No. 569 of 2016 has now introduced the Crew Entry Permit. The Crew Entry Permit, like the Transit Visa already available to all foreigners entering the country for the purpose of short term transit, allows the crew members of foreign vessels to enter the UAE for a period of up to 96 hours for the purpose of transferring from one vessel to another.

Applications for a Crew Entry Permit must be submitted by a vessels agent in advance of the crew member's arrival into the UAE and generally, applications are submitted online to the Immigration department at the port receiving the vessel on board which the crew member is due to eventually exit. The entire application process can take between two to three working days to complete and a Crew Entry Permit is valid for 14 days from the date it is issued.

When arriving into the country on a Crew Entry Permit, crew members of foreign vessels must provide a valid passport and/or seaman's book as proof of identity. They shall then have up to 96 hours to exit the country in accordance with the terms of their Crew Entry Permit on board the vessel provided for at the time of application. Failure to exit the country within 96 hours shall result in fine of AED 200 for the first day of overstay and a further AED 100 per day for every subsequent day until the crew member exits.