Setting up a Business in the UAE - Part C
Updated: Sep 15
Immigration and Labor regulations in the UAE
1) General Information
Any foreign national who intends to physically work in the UAE needs to obtain a work and residence permit (in the form of a stamp in the person’s passport).
Generally speaking, a company has the right to employ either expatriate or local national staff. In respect to Free Zone companies, employers shall apply for work permits for their employees via the relevant Free Zone authorities, while employers in the Mainland shall apply at the Immigration department. Employers can only engage a foreign employee in line with the specific occupation designated n the work and residence permit and employees can only work in the specific location or for a branch of the same employer that has the same business activities and the employee is engaged in the same duties. Health insurance is also required in order to obtain or renew a work and residence permit.
The only exception to the above, are GCC nationals who are visa exempt and can live in the UAE without obtaining a residence permit.
2) Procedure for obtaining a work and residence permit
a) Free Trade Zones
All applications shall be submitted to the relevant Free Zone authority and will then be forwarded to the relevant immigration department for review.
Employers in the Free Zone have a quota restriction on work visas and it is generally limited to one foreign worker for every 9 sq. m. of office space (this may differ between each Free Zone). In some instances, a quota upgrade may be granted at the discretion of the relevant authority.
Prior to the employee’s arrival to the UAE, an application for an employment entry permit must be submitted. Once the permit is secured, the employee can travel to the UAE and commence their assigned activities and submit the relevant documentation for the residence permit and Emirates ID, including a medical fitness test (blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B and x-rays for tuberculosis).
In case the employee shall fill a managerial position, they shall hold a higher educational degree and this must also be submitted to the authorities legalized in the country of issuance, officially translated in Arabic and attested at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It is estimated that the processing time for a Free Zone sponsored work and residence permit application is approximately 2-3 weeks.
All applications for residence and work permits for employees of Mainland business entities shall go through the MOHRE and the relevant immigration department.
Firstly, an employer shall obtain an employment quota and work permit from MOHRE and once the work permit is issued, the employer can then submit an Employment entry permit application through the Immigration department.
In order to obtain a work and residence permit, MOHRE takes into consideration the below:
i) The employee shall possess professional competence or academic qualifications needed in the country
ii) The employee shall enter the country lawfully and satisfy the conditions of residency in the UAE
iii) Whether there are UAE nationals registered in the employment section who are capable of performing the required job.
If the applicant meets all the criteria, an employment entry permit will be issued and the employee may travel to the UAE and commence their activities. The remaining formalities are similar to the Free Zone residence and work permit process.
It is estimated that the processing time for a Mainland work and residence permit application is approximately 4-6 weeks.
3) Dependents of work and residence permit holders
Work and residence permit holders can sponsor their spouses, children and parents (at a discretionary basis) to live in the UAE provided they meet the salary requirements (AED 4000 or AED 3000 plus AED 1000 accommodation allowance). A list of dependent categories is shown below in Table 3.
4) 10-year investor visa
Foreign nationals of the below categories can apply for a 10-year visa in the UAE:
a) Investors in public investments with minimum value of AED 10,000,000
b) Persons with specialized talents and researchers in the fields of science and knowledge (i.e. doctors, specialists, scientists, inventors and creative individuals in the fields of culture and art) 5) 5-years investor visa
Foreign nationals of the below categories can apply for a 10-year visa in the UAE:
a) Real estate investors in the UAE with property value of at least AED 5,000,000 provided that the ownership of the property is not on a loan basis and that the property is retained for at least 3 years
b) Entrepreneurs owning an existing project in the UAE with a minimum capital of AED 500,000 or people who have the approval of an accredited business incubator in the country. In this case, applicants are eligible for a multi-entry visa for 6 months, renewable for another 6 months which can then be converted to a 5-year investor visa.
c) Outstanding students with a minimum grade of 95% in public and private secondary schools or university students with GPA of at least 3.75 upon graduation.
6) Business visitors
Most foreign nationals wishing to enter the UAE for business purposes must obtain a business visa. The procedure depends on the applicant’s nationality. Some nationalities are able to obtain a visa on arrival, while others should apply for a visit e-visa via the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners online or in the case of Free Zone companies via their immigration portal.
a) Permissible activities
Buying goods for sale outside the country
Touring a company facility
Attending a trade show or seminar convention
Attending corporate stockholders’ assemblies
Establishing a business venture or to explore the possibilities to set up a business venture
b) Impermissible activities
Physical work activities
c) General requirements
Passport with at least 6 months validity and a minimum of 3 blank pages
Passport-sized photo on a white background
Establishment of the specific purpose of the visit as well as proof of departure at a fixed time
Proof of sufficient funds to support themselves while in UAE
Health issues, criminal violations or any circumstances giving rise to security concerns may result in denial of admission.
7) Virtual work program
A special virtual/remote working program was established in Dubai, allowing eligible foreign professionals to work remotely from Dubai for up to 1 year.
Applicants should meet the following criteria:
i) Minimum monthly salary of USD 5,000 per month
ii) Overseas employment contract with validity of at least 1 year
iii) Valid health insurance for use in Dubai
b) Permissible activities
i) Conduct overseas role remotely from Dubai for up to 1 year
ii) Visit employer’s office in Dubai for networking or meetings
iii) Meetings with clients
c) Impermissible activities
i) Conducting direct and productive work for an employer in Dubai
ii) Starting own business from within Dubai
*DISCLAIMER: This article and its publication are intended to provide a brief introduction and act as a general guide. This is provided for information purposes only and cannot be utilized as a substitute for professional advice. This document does not represent a legal opinion and one must not rely on it without receiving independent advice based on the particular facts of its own case. No responsibility is accepted by the author or the publishers for any loss suffered from acting or refraining from acting based on the contents of this publication.
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