BUSINESS VISAS A business visa visit to the UAE is typically defined as a short-term stay that is used to conduct business activities in which a work permit is not required. Although the UAE has not issued a specific list of activities that are permissible while being a business visitor, activities such as attending business meetings, making sales presentations or attending conferences are generally allowed. Individuals using a business visa to visit the UAE to repair or install machinery, computer software or any other technically involved activities are not acceptable. The business visa, technically known as the Visit Visa, is obtained from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs and must be sponsored by a local entity within the UAE. Alternatively, a select list of foreign nationals are able to obtain a business visa upon arrival at a UAE airport. This list of foreign nationals includes residents of the United Kingdom, the United States and 31 other countries. Processing times vary between the multiple offices and change frequently. Sponsored business visa visits are limited to two types of stays: short-term and long-term. A short-term business visa allows a maximum stay of 30 days upon the date of entry. The long-term business visa allows an individual to stay up to 90 days upon the date of entry. Short-term business visas obtained upon arrival of the UAE for the nationals of the designated 33 countries, may request one renewal for an additional 30 days. Sponsored business visas of any length are not eligible for renewal. WORK PERMITS Free Trade Zone In order to attract foreign investment, the UAE has established free trade zones which allow companies certain indemnities such as import and export tax exemptions, corporate tax exemptions as well as assistance with labor recruitment and support services such as sponsorship and housing. There are currently 33 Free Zones in existence. That being said, the Free Trade Zones are an important part of immigration law within the UAE. Each Free Trade Zone functions much like an independent establishment that is governed by a Free Zone Authority. These separate authorities determine a company’s individual employment and sponsorship regulations hence the process of obtaining a work permit in each zone may be slightly different. Typically, if the expatriate needs to be assigned to work within a Free Zone, the work permit must be sponsored by a company located within that specific Free Zone. The application for a work permit and entry permit is filed by the local company itself, on behalf of the foreign national, to the applicable Free Zone Authority relieving the need of an approval from the UAE Ministry of Labour.
Non-Free Trade Zone Foreign nationals seeking to work in the UAE outside of a Free Trade Zone, must be sponsored by an approved employer or, in some cases, by a family member already living in the UAE. The appointment of the foreign national depends on the quota determined by the Ministry of Labour that limits the total number of foreign workers that the entity can sponsor. The quotas are based upon the nature of the business, the type of business entity, and the size and quality of the employer’s premises. In order to qualify for a work permit, an assignee must meet the following requirements: • Assignee must be between the ages of 18 and 60. The Ministry of Labour will allow a foreign national over 60 years of age if the assignee meets specific job requirements. • Assignee must have professional or academic qualifications that are useful to the UAE and that correspond to the position or role assigned in the UAE. • Assignee must be in good health and free of illness. • In general, a foreign national seeking to work in the UAE must provide evidence of proprietary knowledge, specialized skills, or managerial/executive-level skills that are not readily available in the domestic labor market. An employer’s eligibility must also adhere to specific guidelines. The following points are a list of requirements the sponsoring company must possess: • The employer must be approved by the Ministry of Labour. • The employer must have a valid UAE commercial trade license. • The employer must be registered with the Ministry of Labour to obtain a labor establishment card and with the Department of Naturalization and Residence to obtain an immigration establishment card. Once the work permit is approved by the Ministry of Labour, the sponsor company must file an entry request within the emirate in which the foreign expatriate will work with the Department of Naturalization and Residence office. Once approved, the assignee has 60 days to enter the UAE from the day of approval on the entry permit. Processing Time Processing times vary frequently for applications submitted within a Free Zone and outside of a Free Zone. One should not expect a processing time less than 4 weeks.
Work Permit Validity Work permits issued within a Free Trade Zone are granted for three years and can be extended in three year increments. A work permit granted outside of a Free Trade Zone is typically issued for two years and can be extended in two year increments. The immigration authority will also take into account the duration of the contract when determining the work permit validity. In-Country Registration The in-country registration process is the very similar for an expatriate working within a Free Trade Zone and outside of one of the zones. After the expatriate enters the UAE, the individual has 30 days to complete their in-country registration. The individual must obtain a medical examination, the Emirates identity card and register at the appropriate office of the Department of Naturalization and Residence. For an assignee employed within a Free Trade Zone, they must obtain a Free Zone ID card. For an assignee employed at a company outside of a Free Trade Zone, they must obtain a Labour Card at the Ministry of Labour, which must be obtained through his or her sponsoring employer.