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.