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Visas & Work Permits in the UAE
Bureaucratic Hurdles in the UAE: From Entry Permits to Residence Visas
So you’ve gotten a job offer in the UAE — congratulations! What are the next steps? Who has to apply for an entry permit and residence visa: you or your employer? In this article, we address all those prickly bureaucratic procedures that are a necessary part of moving abroad.
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- Your future employer must apply for an entry permit for you to legally enter the country for employment purposes.
- Next, your employer will apply for your residence visa. As a part of this, you will need to visit a UAE clinic for a medical exam.
- After you have your residence visa, which allows you to live in the UAE, you will be issued a labor card, which allows you to also work there.
- As a final step, you need to obtain an Emirates ID card, which can be used to access several government services.
Start at the Beginning: Entry Permits
Once you have found a job in the UAE, your future employer will need to get approval to hire you from the Ministry of Labor. This usually involves making sure that no unemployed UAE citizens could do the same job. An exception to this rule is for companies registered within free zones, who do not need ministry approval before applying for a work entry permit.
Once approval has been granted, your employer will act as your sponsor and will apply for an entry permit for you from the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA). They must submit the work permit from the Ministry of Labor, several corporate documents (e.g. a copy of the company’s trade license and establishment card), information about your salary and if accommodation will be provided, and a bank guarantee or a cash deposit equal to one month’s salary plus the cost of a one-way ticket home. For this application, they will require the following documents from you:
- two copies of your passport (valid for at least another six months)
- three recent passport-sized photos
For some professions, your qualifications must be certified by the UAE embassy of your home country as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE.
Once the entry permit has been issued, you must use it to enter the UAE within the next 60 days. After your arrival in the UAE, the permit is valid for an additional 60 days, during which time your employer will need to apply for your residence visa for you.
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Preparing to Stay: Residence Visas
After you have entered the UAE, your employer will initiate the process of getting you a residence visa (also known as a residence permit). Your employer should also cover all fees that the entry permit, residence visa, and other necessary bureaucratic formalities incur.
Your employer will require the following documents from you for this application:
- a completed application form
- three passport-sized photos
- your original passport and a copy
- an original medical fitness certificate and a copy (see below)
- your entry permit
In addition, your company will need to submit a copy of a valid company card, a valid commercial license, three copies of the employment contract, as well as pay an application fee.
Avoid a Fine for Late Applications
It is important to make sure you take all the steps to get your residence visa as soon as possible after arriving in the UAE. As of the 61st day after your entry into the UAE, there is a fine of 25 AED per day until you obtain your residence visa.
Once your application has been approved, the residence visa will be affixed to your passport. The residence visa is usually valid for two years, after which point it can be renewed. Residence visas for employees in free zones are generally valid for up to three years.
In addition to making your stay in the UAE legal, being in possession of a residence visa also lets you open a bank account, get a driver’s license, and take advantage of many other public services. Once you have your residence visa, you can also sponsor non-employment visas so that your dependents can join you in the UAE.
Citizens of GCC countries do not require a residence visa.
After You Arrive: The Necessary Medical Exam
As part of the procedure for applying for a residence visa, you will need to visit an approved hospital or clinic for a medical exam. The exam must take place in the UAE; tests done in other countries will not be accepted. This check-up consists of a physical examination, a blood test, and a chest x-ray. You will be tested for HIV, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Certain categories of workers, including domestic workers, drivers, and restaurant workers, will also be tested for hepatitis B and syphilis.
If you test positive to one or more of these diseases, your visa application will be denied and you must leave the country. There is unfortunately no appeals process. In the case of syphilis, however, you will receive treatment and can stay. Applicants with tuberculosis are first treated and then deported. If you do not have an up-to-date hepatitis B vaccination, you will receive one for an extra fee.
When and Where to Go
Your employer will usually organize this medical exam for you. If not, it is important to note that most hospitals and clinics are only open from Sunday through Thursday and from around 07:00 until 15:00. In Dubai, there is a 24-hour medical center in Muhaisnah. In Abu Dhabi, there are a couple of medical centers open from 07:00 to 18:30 from Sunday through Thursday and from 07:00 to 13:30 on Saturday. The medical facilities are often very busy early in the morning, so it is better to visit in the afternoon.
When you show up for your medical exam, make sure to bring the original and a copy of your passport and entry permit. It normally takes about five working days to obtain the results, although in urgent cases an additional fee can be paid to get the results within 48, 24, or even four hours. In some emirates, you will receive a number and can view the results online. Otherwise you will receive the results in the mail. In any case, it’s important to get your medical fitness certificate to submit with your residence permit application. You must get a new medical check each year.
The Path to Legal Employment: Your Labor Card
Once you have your residence permit, your employer can apply for your labor card (i.e. work permit), which will be issued to you by the Ministry of Labor as a separate plastic card.
The following documents are required for the labor card:
- your passport
- two passport-sized photographs
- your residence visa
- a medical fitness certificate
- three copies of your employment contract (one for the employer, one for you, and one for the Ministry of Labor)
- attested educational certificates and other proof of professional qualifications (if necessary)
- your company’s valid trade license
Changing Employers: Is It Allowed?
If you are working for a company registered in a free zone, you may apply for a change of sponsor (your new employer) at any time. If you are working for a company that is registered with the Ministry of Labor, you must first have worked for this company for two years before you are allowed to switch jobs and transfer your sponsorship to another employer.
The Last Step: The Emirates ID Card
The final post-arrival immigration procedure involves applying for your Emirates ID card. All of these bureaucratic steps should be taken within the first 60 days of your stay in the country. You can already apply for this card as soon as you arrive in the UAE, but it will not be issued until your residence visa has been approved.
The Emirates ID card is mandatory for all citizens and residents of the UAE. This electronic identification card is issued by the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA). The electronic chip in this card contains vital information about you, such as your name, date of birth, nationality, marital status, photo, fingerprints, electronic signature, etc. An Emirates ID card is already necessary to access several government services, and it will be required for even more services in the future.
These are the steps you need to follow to get an Emirates ID card:
- Fill out the application form, either online on the EIDA website, via smartphone app, or at an authorized typing center.
- After you have submitted the form, you will receive a text message from EIDA with the date, time, and location of where you need to go so your biometric data can be collected.
- Make sure to bring your original passport, your medical fitness certificate, a passport-sized photo, as well as your residence visa or entry permit to this appointment.
- The fees are 100 AED for each year of residence plus a 40 AED processing fee.
- The ID is usually issued within five working days. You will receive another text message informing you of the status of your application and the expected date of delivery.
If your card is lost or damaged, it must be replaced. You must report any changes to the information stored on the card within 30 days, or you could face fines. Make sure to renew your Emirates ID card on time, else you will be fined when you go to renew it if the card has been expired for over 30 days.
You should carry your ID card with you at all times, as you must be able to show it to the authorities if asked.