General framework

Legislation

What primary and secondary legislation governs immigration in your jurisdiction?

The primary legislation governing and regulating immigration matters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Federal Immigration Law No. 6 of 1973 (the Immigration Law), as amended. The UAE authorities have, over the years, supplemented the Immigration Law with various other rules and regulations to reflect changes, updates or enhancements introduced to the existing UAE immigration framework by the UAE government.

International agreements

Has your jurisdiction concluded any international agreements affecting immigration (eg, free trade agreements or free movement accords)?

Given the sociopolitical structure of the UAE with a population that is 89 per cent expatriates, the UAE generally has a positive relationship with many countries when it comes to trade and movement of goods and services. There is a lot of reciprocity in terms of visa waivers and trade. In particular, within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the laws surrounding immigration and free movement are much more relaxed, and GCC nationals do not require visas or residence permits to enter or stay in the UAE. For those GCC nationals who undertake employment in the UAE, the process of procuring work authorisation is also much easier with minimal requirements.

In addition, the Qatar blockade has led to no material changes in policy and has affected immigration between Qatari and UAE nationals in particular.

Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers? Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

The government authorities that regulate immigration are the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigner Affairs (GDRFA) and the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) (formerly the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs).

Both the GDRFA and the MOHRE have various enforcement powers and authority with respect to immigration and labour non-compliance. For instance, foreign nationals found to be working in the UAE without the correct visa sponsorship permissions or approvals can be subject to a number of penalties from the GDRFA: fines (10,000 UAE dirhams), imprisonment (one month), deportation and banishment from the UAE. The MOHRE also has the ability to impose fines on errant employers utilising foreign labour without valid or correct sponsorship permissions 51,000 UAE dirhams per illegal employee, among other penalties, including downgrading the employer’s general classification with the MOHRE and imposing black points, which would ultimately impact the company’s ability to avail of financial or other MOHRE-specific incentives, and would affect work permit application fees.

The decisions of these authorities cannot be appealed, and rejections are often issued without a formal explanation. An application may be re-submitted for review if certain information or documentation is outstanding, but a formal appeals process does not currently exist in the UAE.

Government policy

In broad terms what is your government’s policy towards business immigration?

Policies relating to the employment of UAE and foreign nationals are maintained by the MOHRE. The Labour Law is loosely based on the International Labour Organization’s model. In 2003, the UAE launched an initiative aimed at increasing the participation of national employees in the workforce, the framework of which has continued to evolve in recent years. This policy of ‘Emiratisation’ aims to employ citizens in a meaningful and efficient manner in the public and private sectors as this contributes to a successful economic and political structure. Emiratisation works through the implementation of prescribed percentages in certain business sectors, as well as requiring certain positions to be filled by UAE nationals. However, despite the underlying framework for Emiratisation, there remains a heavy reliance on expatriate workers, and Emiratisation policies are not strictly enforced in certain sectors or geographical locations.

The UAE also maintains several geographically distinct areas referred to as free zones. Free zones permit 100 per cent foreign ownership and, from an immigration perspective, do not fall under the direct purview of the MOHRE. Each free zone operates its own government services office (GSO) that liaises with the immigration authorities on behalf of the sponsoring entity. Free zones also tend to follow a relatively streamlined work authorisation process, although documentation requirements (and subsequent processing times) tend to vary from free zone to free zone.

Short-term transfers

Visas

In what circumstances is a visa necessary for short-term travellers? How are short-term visas obtained?

Generally, short-term visas are issued for specific purposes, such as tourism, general visits, business visits, seminars, exhibitions and conferences. Each type of short-term visa is issued for a different purpose with the expectation that the short-term visitor will comply with the regulations governing these visas. Travellers who require a visa require a local sponsor (usually a company or a family member) to initiate the process within the UAE. For certain visa types, sponsors could also be hotels or travel or tourism companies. In recent months, ‘transit’ visa facilities have also been made more flexible. Transit visas are generally valid for 48 hours, but new rules announced in 2018 are being put into place to permit extensions to up to 96 hours.

GCC nationals are visa-exempt for an indefinite period of stay, while numerous nationalities (including the US and all EU member states) are currently eligible for a visit visa on arrival, obtained at the airport of entry. Historically, GCC residents holding managerial and professional job titles were also eligible for a visa on arrival, but since 1 September 2015, are required to obtain a pre-approved e-visa from the GDRFA prior to entry. As of 5 June 2017, Qatari nationals are prohibited from entering the UAE owing to the political situation between the UAE and the State of Qatar and the existing embargo in place.

Tourist entry permit

Tourist visas can be issued through hotels, tourism companies or national airline carriers, and are valid for 30 or 90 days’ stay from the date of entry. If the tourist visa holder overstays, he or she may be subject to a daily fine as well as an exit fee. Since tourist visas are generally issued by hotels and airlines, the documentation requirements vary from company to company - most companies would require the applicant to book a hotel room or purchase travel tickets (if applicable). In most instances, the applicant is required to provide a copy of his or her passport, a passport-sized photograph and the reasons for the visit. A copy of the visa, once it is issued, is sent to the applicant. Most tourist visas are valid for entry into the UAE for a period of 60 days.

All types of visit and tourist visas can be extended for 30 days twice, without the need to leave the country.

Visitors and tourists can apply for the second renewal before the expiry of the first one and simply have to pay a fee each time of renewal. Visa over-stayers who do not renew, as above, will have to pay a fine for each day of overstaying, which is to be calculated from 10 days after the visa expiry.

However, the new rule for extension does not apply to the following categories:

  • visitors and tourists who are residents of GCC countries;
  • residents accompanying GCC nationals;
  • those on special entry permits; and
  • those on a 96-hour permit for special missions.

According to a Cabinet resolution passed in July 2018, children under the age of 18 who are accompanied by an adult can obtain a free visa for any visit taking place between 15 July and 15 September each year.

Short-term and long-term visit entry permits

Unlike the tourist visa, a visit visa (short-term or long-term) is issued at the request of a corporate sponsor or legal resident in the UAE. Visit visas sponsored by individuals (ie, family members) are usually meant to facilitate general visits, while those sponsored by corporates tend to facilitate business travel.

Although the UAE authorities do not maintain an exhaustive list of activities that may be conducted on a business visit visa, activities such as attending meetings, conducting research, negotiating contracts or attending training, are permissible in practice. Hands-on or technical work or other activities that may be construed as generating profit are not permissible. Business visit visas are generally valid for a period of 30 or 90 days and can be obtained for both single or multiple entries - the type of visa granted would depend on the privileges granted to the sponsoring entity and the quota available to it. Sponsored visit visas for business cannot be extended in-country, but are no longer subject to a cooling-off period - previously a 30-day cooling-off period during which the applicant could not re-enter on the basis of another short-term visa was enforced throughout the country.

The requirements for obtaining visit visas vary from location to location, with certain areas such as free zones implementing their own list of documentation requirements, which are known to change without prior notice. As such, it is always advisable to check regulations in advance and immediately before travelling. At the time of writing, nationals from the following GCC countries are visa-exempt for an indefinite period of stay: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Individuals from the following countries can currently receive a visa on arrival, which is valid for up to 90 days (in a 180-day period): Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay.

Citizens of the following countries are eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival (extendable in-country for an additional 30 days): Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Monaco, New Zealand, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vatican City. Indian passport holders who hold a valid US green card (or visa) or valid EU residence permit or visa are eligible for a 14-day visa on arrival, which is extendable once, in-country, for an additional 14 days.

Although the UAE authorities do not maintain an explicit list of nationalities that are restricted from entering the country, certain Middle Eastern, eastern European, South Asian and African nationalities may undergo extensive security screening, experience longer processing times and, in some cases, have their applications rejected. Individuals with prior Israeli travel stamps may also be denied a visa or be denied entry at the time of arrival. Individuals of Arab origin, even if they hold a different, non-Arab passport, may be required to provide additional supporting documentation, such as copies of birth certificates, home-country identification or family books, when obtaining visit visas.

Restrictions

What are the main restrictions on a business visitor?

Establishments and companies operating in the UAE can sponsor business visitors for a variety of different visas, including entry service visas (ESVs), visit visas for business, visit visas to attend exhibitions or conferences (available under select circumstances) and mission work permits (MWPs).

ESVs are sponsored by private-sector companies and establishments for individuals required to visit the UAE for very short periods (up to 14 days) for business purposes such as attending meetings (although in practice, limited hands-on work may be conducted). Permits to attend exhibitions or conferences are issued for a period of 30 days on a non-renewable and non-extendable basis. Such visas do not permit work, but permit the holder to attend the conferences and seminars in relation to which the visa has been issued.

MWPs are non-extendable single-entry permits, valid for a period of 90 days. Such visas are granted and issued subject to the approval of the MOHRE. MWPs allow the holder to engage in hands-on or technical work and are usually meant to facilitate short-term contractual obligations in relation to a project. MWPs cannot be converted into employment visas and holders would need to exit the country prior to expiry.

Short-term training

Is work authorisation or immigration permission needed to give or receive short-term training?

From a strict immigration-compliance perspective, foreign nationals intending to receive short-term training in a classroom setting may do so without formal work authorisation and on business visitor status (ie, by entering the UAE on the applicable short-term visas permitting business-type activities). Since the UAE immigration authorities do not maintain a list of activities that require formal work authorisation, giving training (especially if it involves technical demonstrations) is not recommended without first procuring the appropriate work authorisation. Short-term training may, in practice, be given on an ESV, although this would retain an element of risk in the event of an immigration check.

Transit

Are transit visas required to travel through your country? How are these obtained? Are they only required for certain nationals?

Transit passengers stopping at airports in the UAE for a minimum of eight hours and meeting the following conditions are eligible to obtain a 96-hour transit visa:

  • using sponsored airlines only (prior arrangements may be required); and
  • applications should have a confirmed onward booking to a subsequent destination.

More recently, the UAE authorities have announced plans to streamline the process for obtaining transit visas and have made the facility available under more circumstances. The authorities are also considering removing processing fees for transit visas.

Visa waivers and fast-track entry

Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?

There are currently no fast-track entry programmes available in the UAE. However, the UAE has recently announced a visa waiver for children under the age of 18, who are accompanying their parents to the UAE (specifically between 15 July and 15 September), in a bid to further boost in-bound tourism to the UAE.

In the past year, the government has gradually increased the list of countries where visas to travel to the UAE have been waived (ie, free visas are issued on arrival in the UAE). This list includes Barbados (from 1 July 2018), Brazil (from 3 June 2018), Costa Rica (from 13 May 2018), Grenada (from 1 June 2018), Honduras (from 25 May 2018), Montenegro (from 31 March 2018) and Uruguay (from 29 April 2018). In particular, the focus has been centred on countries in South America, where the UAE has significantly enhanced its diplomatic and foreign relations.

In addition, those who hold Indian passports with UK residency status, valid for more than six months, are eligible for a 14-day visa costing 100 UAE dirhams upon arrival in the UAE. This visa can be extended for a maximum of an additional 14 days by visiting a local immigration office in the UAE. Further, Indian passport holders who hold a valid US green card (or visa) residence permit or visa are eligible for a 14-day visa on arrival, which is extendable once, in-country, for an additional 14 days.

Long-term transfers

Categories

What are the main work and business permit categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?

The main short-term categories are as follows:

  • ESV;
  • MWP; and
  • business visit visas.

Longer-term work authorisation is granted by the employment residence permit (ERP). ERPs are generally valid for two to three years, permit multiple entry and can be renewed upon expiry.

Procedures

What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions? At what stage can work begin?

Each permit or visa has its own requirements and procedures and requirements also tend to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, certain general conditions must be satisfied in most instances.

Employee-specific requirements

The applicant must ensure that:

  • he or she holds a passport with at least six months’ remaining validity at the time of application - it is recommended that a minimum validity period of six months remains at all stages of the process;
  • the relevant authorities (GDRFA or MOHRE) have approved his or her visa or permit application;
  • he or she is not banned from entering the UAE (prior labour or immigration ban) and that he or she does not belong to any of the nationalities or categories disallowed by the UAE immigration authorities on the grounds of national security or policy, or both;
  • he or she is free from communicable diseases - certain visa and permit categories require the applicant to complete an in-country medical examination; and
  • he or she has valid academic credentials that can be presented as part of the work authorisation application (certain managerial or professional job titles would require this).

In early 2018, the authorities required that foreign nationals provide a police clearance certificate from their home country or country of legal residence as part of the work authorisation process. This requirement was placed on hold in April 2018, with no clear indication as to whether the policy will be reinstated.

Employer-specific requirements

The sponsoring entity must:

  • be in good standing with the MOHRE and GDRFA, as well as the relevant free zone authority (if applicable);
  • have all valid and up-to-date corporate and corporate immigration documentation and must be licensed to conduct business in its relevant jurisdiction; and
  • have the relevant quotas and sponsorship permissions in place (if applicable).

When the above conditions are met, the following steps need to be followed to obtain an ERP (the primary form of work authorisation in the UAE):

  • the sponsoring business seeks approval (in the form of a quota) from the MOHRE or the GSO of the relevant free zone (if applicable) to sponsor the foreign national employee;
  • once the relevant quota is in place, an employment entry permit (EEP) is obtained from the GDRFA for the employee’s entry into the UAE;
  • once the employee enters on the basis of the issued EEP, he or she must undergo a medical examination and complete biometrics for the Emirates ID;
  • upon completion of the medical examination, the final ERP is endorsed in the employee’s passport - certain free zones issue a free zone-specific identity card as well; and
  • the Emirates ID card is issued approximately two to three weeks after the completion of biometrics.

In addition to the above steps, mainland (onshore) companies also require the registration of a formal labour contract as well as an offer letter (in the prescribed format) with the MOHRE.

Certain nationalities go through a slightly different process to the above and obtain an EEP directly from the UAE consulate or embassy in their home country. This may require additional steps to be completed, including an out-of-country medical examination (in addition to the examination completed in the UAE post-arrival).

From a strict immigration compliance perspective, employees must not start work until the final ERP has been endorsed.

Period of stay

What are the general maximum (and minimum) periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?

The employment entry permit is valid for 60 days from the date of issue and entitles the holder to enter the UAE once for a total period of 60 days to finalise all the requirements for obtaining an ERP - extensions to the allotted 60 days are not possible. Once the ERP is obtained, foreign nationals can reside in the UAE for the period stipulated in the ERP (usually two years for onshore entities and three years for free zone entities). To keep the ERP active, the employee must not stay outside of the UAE for 180 or more calendar days.

Processing time

How long does it typically take to process the main categories?

This is dependent on whether the application is being processed onshore or in a free zone. The processing time for obtaining an ERP is approximately four to five weeks assuming that all the relevant documentation is ready (documentation legalisation times can add significantly to total lead time) and there is no extensive security screening.

Staff benefits

Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?

It is essential to have the prescribed form (dual Arabic and English) MOHRE job offer letter and employment contract in place (for onshore companies) in order to obtain an ERP. The other UAE free zones either have their own template employment contracts in place or mandate specific minimum terms and conditions of employment be included in any company-specific employment contractual documentation. Dubai has implemented a mandatory health insurance policy for all foreign nationals residing in Dubai. Obtaining health insurance is interlinked with the work authorisation process and failure to provide this will result in the application being refused. Abu Dhabi adheres to a similar health insurance requirement, while other emirates are expected to follow suit in the future.

Assessment criteria

Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?

The immigration authorities follow objective criteria but do have discretion in requesting additional supporting documentation if they deem it necessary. Rejected applications are generally not accompanied by any explanation, while exemptions are subject to the discretion of the senior immigration officer on a case-by-case basis. Such exemptions are generally issued on humanitarian grounds or granted by way of special approvals from senior officials.

High net worth individuals and investors

Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?

High net worth individuals, also called investors, can obtain legal residency by way of investing in a local business. Once the entity is set up by the individual, he or she can then be appointed as a general manager and obtain a residence permit sponsored by that entity. In essence, the individual would be an employee of the newly established business and the business would serve as the corporate sponsor - similar to the standard work authorisation process followed in the UAE.

Another option is to invest in property and obtain a property-based investment residence permit. However, there are certain requirements for obtaining legal residency under this approach, and these include the following:

  • presenting official documentation proving that the property is worth 1 million UAE dirhams or more;
  • proving that the property is wholly owned by the investor and not jointly owned with another individual or entity;
  • if the property is mortgaged, proving that at least 50 per cent of the mortgaged amount has been paid off;
  • providing copies of bank statements for the previous six months to show a minimum monthly income of 10,000 UAE dirhams (in the home country or in the UAE);
  • obtaining valid health insurance for the principal applicant as well as any sponsored dependants; and
  • presenting a title deed that has been certified by the Dubai Land Department.

Major changes in immigration for investors and high net worth individuals have been introduced in 2019. In June 2019, the golden card was announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. The golden card is a 10-year, long-term residency scheme implemented to create an attractive investment environment in the UAE, which further encourages business development and draws in new talent. Long-term residents who have contributed to the country’s development are also being rewarded for their loyalty and encouraged to continue investing in the UAE.

In addition, in May 2019, the UAE introduced a new five-year multi-entry visa. Those eligible for five-year visas include investors in real estate, entrepreneurs, executive directors and retired expatriate professionals, as well as their family members. Top achievers among students with exceptional talents and their family members can also get the five-year visa.

Is there a special route (including fast track) for high net worth individuals for a residence permission route into your jurisdiction?

See question 16.

Highly skilled individuals

Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?

No. All foreign nationals must go through the standard route for obtaining work authorisation. However, the authorities have recently announced that certain niche and highly skilled professions in the fields of medicine, engineering, academics, technology and science may be able to obtain residence permits that are valid for up to 10 years. Practical considerations relating to implementation (and whether a ‘special’ processing route will be implemented) are still under discussion.

Ancestry and descent

Is there a special route for foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

No.

Minimum salary

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?

The UAE does not implement a minimum salary requirement for sponsoring foreign national employees; however, there are minimum salary requirements applicable to sponsoring dependants, being eligible for bank loans, etc. In addition, mainland UAE (as well as certain free zones) implement the UAE Central Bank’s Wage Protection System (WPS). The WPS requires all registered employees to be paid locally, in the local currency (UAE dirhams), and through an authorised agent. As such, salaries that are declared locally (mentioned on the employment contract) must be paid locally and are actively monitored throughout the term of employment.

Resident labour market test

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

Yes, there is a quota system in place to sponsor foreign individuals to enter the UAE for employment purposes. For entities based in mainland UAE, the sponsoring entity must first seek the approval of the MOHRE to employ the individual in question. The MOHRE has specific undisclosed criteria for adjudicating such requests, which include analysing the market for qualified UAE nationals, analysing the firm’s office space and analysing the nature of the business and the job title requested..

Certain industries (and locations) may also be subject to Emiratisation and the authorities may not issue quotas for sponsoring foreign nationals if this is not adhered to.

Moreover, the MOHRE has implemented a labour market testing initiative referred to locally as ‘Tawteen Gate’. The portal aims to make these roles more accessible to Emirati nationals by requiring certain companies to formally post openings prior to hiring any foreign national employees. Unemployed UAE nationals can register on the platform and benefit from accessing the priority job listings. Currently, the role needs to be posted for at least five days, after which the authorities inform the company about any potential candidates through an automated system. The company is not required to interview each applicant; however, if they ‘accept’ an applicant, they are required to interview them. The applicant and the company have an option to reject the opportunity; however, the company must record the reason for the rejection from a set drop-down menu on the portal. Companies learn whether they are subject to the mandatory job posting requirement once they initiate a work authorisation application and prepare a job offer application on the MOHRE’s database.

Shortage occupations

Is there a special route for shortage occupations?

No.

Other eligibility requirements

Are there any other main eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in your jurisdiction?

Yes, the regulations prescribe minimum qualifications for specific jobs, especially for higher managerial posts. For instance, there is a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree for certain executive and management positions. For females sponsoring their spouses (or child dependants), there are criteria regarding specific salaries to be held.

Third-party contractors

What is the process for third-party contractors to obtain work permission?

A holder of a work permit may be subcontracted through his or her company to work at another company’s premises. This can be done by engaging the services of an authorised manpower provider that can sponsor the individual in question and then second him or her to the end client - a trilateral agreement is usually in place in such engagements. Obtaining a temporary work permit from the MOHRE may also be a possible alternative for onshore companies servicing onshore clients. Temporary work permits are usually valid for 180 days (with an option to renew for an additional 180 days), but are subject to the approval of the MOHRE, which would adjudicate the application on the basis of the underlying relationship between the two engaging entities.

Although free zones are not eligible for temporary work permits, certain free zones may offer temporary access card (TAC) facilities that would grant the holder the ability to engage in hands-on work for a short-term period. TAC durations (and the type of activities permissible) vary from free zone to free zone, but do require that both the sending entity (sponsor) and the host entity (end client) have an underlying business relationship. In practice, entities with common investors or local partners (sister concerns), or both, can also share human capital.

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Is an equivalency assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?

Yes, attested copies of educational certificates are required in order to obtain an ERP - this only applies to some professional and managerial job titles. Academic certificates are legalised by the Foreign Affairs Department and UAE embassy in the country of issuance and then counter-legalised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE.

Extensions and variations

Short-term to long-term status

Can a short-term visa be converted in-country into longer-term authorisations? If so, what is the process?

It is possible to change a visit visa (which was obtained for purposes other than tourism) into an employment visa if the applicant falls under one of the following categories (only the main categories have been listed below):

  • engineer;
  • doctor, chemist, nurse or medical technician;
  • teacher;
  • agricultural adviser;
  • qualified accountant or auditor;
  • technician in electronics, scientific equipment or labs;
  • driver licensed to drive heavy vehicles and buses;
  • employee in a private oil company; and
  • spouse and dependants of any of the above categories.

In practice, however, individuals who do not fall into one of the above categories, but still hold professional job titles, can regularise their immigration status by way of amendment without exiting and re-entering the country.

Long-term extension

Can long-term immigration permission be extended?

Holders of valid ERPs may continue to live and work in the UAE for as long as such residence is valid. The ERP must, however, be renewed every two years for onshore-sponsored entities and every three years for free zone-sponsored entities. If the individual is no longer employed by the sponsoring entity, he or she would have to exit the country (or initiate the work authorisation process under a different employer) within 30 days following formal cancellation of his or her residency. It is illegal for an employee to work for an employer different from his or her sponsoring entity, the penalties for which are severe and can extend to all three parties.

Exit and re-entry

What are the rules on and implications of exit and re-entry for work permits?

Employees can exit and re-enter the country as long as their ERP remains valid. However, the ERP becomes invalid if the holder stays outside of the UAE for a period of six months or more.

Permanent residency and citizenship

How can immigrants qualify for permanent residency or citizenship?

Foreign nationals cannot qualify for permanent residency or citizenship.

End of employment

Must immigration permission be cancelled at the end of employment in your jurisdiction?

Yes, the ERP must be formally cancelled at the end of the employment engagement. Generally, the employer has a legal obligation to cancel the ERP within 30 calendar days of the employee’s termination date, triggering a further 30 calendar day ‘grace period’ for the employee to secure alternative UAE sponsorship (failing which, he or she must leave the UAE). Movement within the same entity (eg, a promotion) does not require the work permit to be cancelled. Failure to formally cancel ERPs can result in penalties for both the employee and the employer. Dependant residence permits must be cancelled prior to cancellation of the principal’s residency.

Employee restrictions

Are there any specific restrictions on a holder of employment permission?

Holders of ERPs can study, be promoted and have their salaries changed without having to change their permit (from a strict immigration-compliance perspective, job titles and salaries mentioned on the labour contract must be amended to reflect any changes (ie, in the event of promotions)). However, an employee can only work for, and at the premises of, the sponsoring employer. If the employee wishes to work for a different employer, the ERP will need to be cancelled and reissued under the new sponsor.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant?

The following are considered as dependants:

  • spouses;
  • siblings;
  • children (male or female minors, female adults unless married and males up to 18 years (or older if in full-time education in the UAE); and
  • parents and in-laws.

Sponsoring a dependant will involve submitting an application and a deposit with the immigration authorities that is refunded on application after cancelling the visa. The visa regulations are strict in terms of salary, accommodation, bank statements, etc. There is a minimum monthly salary requirement of 4,000 UAE dirhams (or 3,000 UAE dirhams if accommodation is provided) for sponsoring spouses and children; however, the minimum salary requirement to sponsor parents is currently 20,000 UAE dirhams per month, as well as having accommodation with at least two bedrooms. Being able to present legalised birth certificates (if sponsoring children) and legalised marriage certificates (if sponsoring a spouse) is central to the dependant residency process.

The UAE does not recognise the following as dependants:

  • civil partners;
  • unmarried partners;
  • same-sex partners;
  • cohabitees; and
  • children of unmarried parents.
Conditions and restrictions

Are dependants automatically allowed to work or attend school?

Female dependants are allowed to work if they obtain a no--objection letter from their sponsor (their spouse or their father, in this instance). Such requests need pre-approval from the MOHRE or relevant free zone authority, depending on where the employer is located. Under this approach, female dependants can remain under their existing sponsor’s sponsorship and obtain a dependant work permit or card permitting them to work. Alternatively, female dependants may opt to obtain direct sponsorship by their employer. Male spouses cannot work under such dependant status and must obtain sponsorship from a company in order to work.

Dependent minors are allowed to work in the UAE provided that they are between the ages of 15 and 18 years (new provisions permitting part-time work for dependants between the ages of 12 and 15 years have recently been introduced). Dependant minors may not be employed in dangerous, physically exhausting or taxing jobs. In addition, they must have obtained written approval from their parents or guardians in order to secure work authorisation.

Access to social benefits

What social benefits are dependants entitled to?

There are no social benefits provided to dependants of foreign nationals.

Other requirements, restrictions and penalties

Criminal convictions

Are prior criminal convictions a barrier to obtaining immigration permission?

Obtaining work authorisation in this case would involve an element of discretion, as the authorities may pick up on the prior conviction during security screening. Most government and semi-government employers request the applicant to provide a police clearance certificate from the employee’s home country or country of residence prior to applying for a residence permit in the UAE.

Penalties for non-compliance

What are the penalties for companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration law? How are these applied in practice?

Non-compliance with UAE immigration and labour policies can result in the imposition of fines and other sanctions including restrictions on future sponsorship privileges. In instances of extreme non-compliance, trade licence managers of such companies can also be held accountable and be subject to fines or imprisonment, or both. Foreign national employees can also be fined, imprisoned, have their residence permits cancelled or be deported from the country. They can also be subject to immigration and labour bans.

Language requirements

Are there any minimum language requirements for migrants?

No.

Medical screening

Is medical screening required to obtain immigration permission?

Medical screening is required to obtain an ERP, dependant residence permit and MWP. For other temporary entry permits, medical screening is not currently required. Nevertheless, additional tests may be prescribed depending on which country a foreign worker is coming from. There are certain exceptions made for pregnant women and children; however, this is subject to change without prior notice and so it is recommended that all visitors to the UAE speak to the UAE embassy in their country of residence prior to entry.

Secondment

Is there a specific procedure for employees on secondment to a client site in your jurisdiction?

A temporary work permit can be issued by the MOHRE for an employee of one onshore company to work for another onshore company. Temporary work permits are usually valid for 180 days (with an option to renew for an additional 180 days) and are subject to approval of the MOHRE on the nature of business between the two engaging entities. The original employing entity remains responsible for discharging its full legal and contractual obligations towards the seconded employee (such as payment of salary and benefits), notwithstanding the secondment arrangements.

Although free zones are not eligible for temporary work permits, certain free zones may have TAC facilities that would grant the holder the ability to engage in hands-on work for a short-term period. TAC durations (and the type of activities permissible) vary from free zone to free zone, but TACs do require that both the sending entity (sponsor) and the host entity (end client) have an underlying business relationship. In practice, entities with sister concerns can share human capital.

Update and trends

Key developments of the past year

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

Key developments of the past year40 Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

Overall, the consistent, emerging trend in the UAE is one that continues to be pro-immigration at a time where immigration is a divisive, political matter in many countries all over the world. With the introduction of new visa types, laws and regulations, all aimed at increasing immigration, the UAE is doing more than ever before to encourage people to relocate and invest. The changes that have been introduced by the UAE government have been driven forward in an attempt to boost immigration, tourism and investment, as well as boosting the number of highly skilled workers entering the country. Emiratisation has been introduced, although not stringently enforced; this is not necessarily to deter foreign nationals, but to encourage the hiring of local nationals.

The UAE is renowned for its reputation in being a diverse, cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. This has been strengthened by the introduction of some of the changes stipulated, which aim to make it easier for people to travel, reside and invest in the UAE. With Expo 2020, to be held in Dubai, fast-approaching, it is evident that the government’s primary incentive here is to drive forward the country’s reputation of being a leading, global powerhouse on all fronts.