In the dynamic global business landscape, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) remains a pivotal hub for commerce and industry. Understanding the nuances of the UAE's work permit system is crucial for businesses and HR professionals who strive to navigate this vibrant economic space efficiently.
In 2024, with the UAE's continued focus on diversifying its economy and attracting global talent, staying abreast of the latest regulations governing work permits is more important than ever. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the UAE's work permit system, highlighting recent changes, types of permits, and best practices for HR professionals and business owners.
What are the different types of work permits available in the UAE?
As of 2024, the UAE offers a variety of work permits to cater to its diverse business landscape. These range from standard work permits to specialized permits for different sectors and special economic zones. Each category has specific eligibility criteria, application process, and required documentation.
The MoHRE issues the following 12 types of work permits. Companies registered with MoHRE can issue the following permits to recruit employees, depending on the nature of the job:
- a work permit to recruit a worker from outside the UAE
- a work permit to transfer a foreign worker from one establishment to another
- a work permit for a resident on a family sponsorship
- a temporary work permit to hire a worker to complete a job within a specific period
- one-mission work permit to recruit a worker from abroad to complete a temporary job, or a particular project for a specific period
- a part-time work permit to recruit a worker under a part-time contract where his working hours or days are less than his full-time contract
- a juvenile permit to recruit a juvenile between 15 and 18 years
- a student training and employment permit to employ a 15-year-old student who is already in the UAE
- UAE/GCC national permit to employ a UAE or a GCC national
- a golden visa holder permit to employ a worker holding the UAE’s Golden Residence visa
- national trainee permit to train a UAE national
- A freelance permit is issued to self-sponsored foreigners in the UAE who provide services or perform tasks to individuals or companies (without being sponsored by a specific employer in the UAE and without having an employment contract).
1. Standard Work Permits
The standard work permit is the most common type issued to foreign nationals seeking employment in the UAE. Applicants must have a confirmed job offer from a UAE-based company, and the employer must sponsor the permit. The standard process involves obtaining preliminary approval from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) and visa issuance from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA).
- Employment offer from a UAE-based company.
- Relevant qualifications and experience for the job role.
- Pass a medical fitness test.
- Employer initiates: The employer must obtain an employment quota approval from MoHRE.
- Entry Permit: Upon approval, an entry permit (temporary visa) is issued for the employee to enter the UAE.
- Medical Test and Emirates ID: The employee undergoes a medical test in the UAE and applies for an Emirates ID.
- Work Permit and Residency Visa: Finally, the employer applies for the actual work permit and residency visa.
- Passport copy.
- Academic and professional certificates.
- Employment contract.
- Entry permit.
- Medical test results.
2. Sector-Specific Permits
Recognizing the need to attract expertise in specific fields, the UAE has introduced sector-specific permits. These are tailored for healthcare, education, and construction industries, with a high demand for skilled professionals. These permits often require additional certifications or qualifications relevant to the specific sector.
- Relevant sector-specific qualifications.
- Licensing (for regulated professions like healthcare).
- Employment offer from a UAE-based company in the specific sector.
Obtain approval from the relevant sector authority (e.g., Health Authority for healthcare jobs).
Standard Work Permit Process
Follow the standard work permit application process outlined above.
- All standard work permit documents.
- Additional certifications or licenses specific to the sector.
3. Special Economic or Free Zone Permits
Special Economic Zones (SEZs) like Dubai Internet City and Abu Dhabi Global Market have specific work permits. These zones offer benefits like tax exemptions and allow for 100% foreign ownership. Work permits in SEZs usually have streamlined processes and are designed to attract businesses in sectors like technology, finance, and media.
You can request your employee's work permit and residence visa through the relevant free zone authority. According to the official guidelines provided by the Hamriyah Free Zone Authority (HFZA), several rules apply to visa applications.
The initial visa application in HFZA is exclusively for individuals whose names are explicitly mentioned in the trade license.
For employment visas, the age criteria dictate that applicants must be at least 18 years old and not exceed 60 years. However, special approval can be sought for shareholders/managers in the trade license.
When applying for an employment visa, an attested educational certificate is mandatory for female applicants and those in professional or managerial roles.
Those whose visas are issued by the HFZA Visa Department are restricted to working solely with the sponsoring company within the Hamriyah Free Zone. Any deviation from this requires special permission.
Many free zone authorities, including Hamriyah Free Zone, implement quotas or limits on the number of visas a business can obtain. Businesses may augment their visa allocation by relocating to larger offices or applying for an increase in the visa quota, subject to the approval of the free zone authority.
For instance, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre's visa quota is contingent on the office size:
- Flexi desk: Up to 3 visas
- Serviced office: 4 or 5 visas, depending on office size
- Physical space: 1 visa for every 9 square meters
In twofour54, the number of visas attainable is tied to the license fee and office dimensions.
What are the New Categories of Work Permits in UAE (Introduced in 2024)?
The UAE has introduced innovative permit categories to attract global talent and support its diversifying economy.
- Specific to each new category (e.g., tech visas may require proof of expertise in emerging technologies).
- Tailored to support strategic sectors identified by the UAE government.
Specialized Application: Apply through dedicated portals or government entities overseeing these new categories.
Verification and Approval: Undergo a specialized verification process tailored to the category.
Visa Issuance: Upon approval, the visa is issued.
Required Documentation: Varies based on the specific category but generally includes passport, professional qualifications, and proof of expertise or contribution to the strategic sector.
What risks are involved in employing a worker without a valid work permit in the UAE?
According to Article 6 of the Federal Decree-Law No. 33 of 2021 on the Regulation of Labour Relations in the Private Sector, known as the ‘UAE Labour Law,’ it is illegal for a person to work in the UAE without a valid work permit issued according to the procedures set out by Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE).
Employing a worker without a valid work permit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a severe violation of the country's labor and immigration laws, and it carries significant risks and consequences for both the employer and the employee. Understanding these risks is crucial for businesses and HR professionals to ensure compliance and avoid legal complications.
Here are the key risks associated with such an infringement:
Legal Penalties and Fines: Employers who hire workers without valid work permits can face substantial fines. The UAE government imposes strict penalties on businesses violating labor laws, and these fines can be significant, potentially impacting the business's financial stability.
Business License Revocation: In severe cases or cases of repeated violations, the authorities may revoke the business license of the offending company after an official labor inspection. This action can halt all business operations and lead to the company's closure.
Reputational Damage: Being found in violation of labor laws can harm the business's reputation. This negative publicity can lead to a loss of client trust decreased investor confidence, and can adversely affect the company's brand image.
Legal Proceedings: The employer may face legal proceedings, which can be time-consuming and costly. The process can also distract from regular business operations and require significant legal resources.
Restrictions on Future Hiring: The company might face restrictions on hiring new foreign employees. This limitation can affect the business’s ability to grow and operate efficiently, especially in sectors with a high demand for skilled foreign labor.
Deportation of Employees: Employers may also be held responsible for deporting employees found working without valid permits. This responsibility can include covering the costs associated with deportation.
Deportation: Employees working without a valid permit risk being deported from the UAE. Deportation can have long-term implications for their ability to return to the UAE for work or travel.
Legal Sanctions: Individuals working illegally may face legal sanctions, including fines and imprisonment. These sanctions can have severe personal and professional repercussions.
Ineligibility for Future Work: Being caught working without a permit can lead to being blacklisted, making it difficult or impossible for the individual to obtain a work permit in the UAE in the future.
Lack of Legal Protection: UAE labor laws only protect employees with valid work permits. This lack of protection means they have no recourse to unfair treatment, non-payment of wages, or unsafe working conditions.
Difficulty in Accessing Healthcare and Other Services: With a valid work permit, employees may have access to healthcare, banking, and other essential services in the UAE.
What are the requirements for obtaining a work permit in the UAE?
To apply for a work permit in UAE
The establishment must:
- have a valid trade license, and
- the authorized signatory of the establishment must apply.
MoHRE may refrain from issuing or renewing or may cancel work permits if the establishment:
- provides incorrect documents
- is fictitious or does not exercise its registered activity
- is not compliant with the ‘Wages Protection System’ or any other system adopted to regulate the national labor market.
To cancel a work permit in UAE
When cancelling a work permit, the establishment must acknowledge that it has paid the worker all his entitlements. The worker's signature must be on the permit cancellation form.
Additionally, learn about the situations in which the employer is not considered late in issuing and renewing the work permit as mentioned in Article 3 of the Ministerial Decree No. 46 of 2022 Regarding Work Permits, Job Offers and Employment Contracts Forms.
Cost of work permits in UAE
The cost of issuing and renewing a work permit ranges from AED 250 to AED 3,450, depending on the company’s classification: A, B, or C.
The classification reflects the extent of companies’ compliance with the UAE’s labor law, the Wages Protection System, relevant MoHRE resolutions and directives, laws relating to workers’ rights, and the policy of promoting cultural and demographic diversity. Companies with a history of violations and lack of commitment will be placed in category C.
Learn more about the new fees for renewing or amending work permits and contracts and transferring workers from one company to another as per Cabinet Resolution No. 37 of 2022 Regarding the Amendment of Some Provisions of Cabinet Resolution No. 21 of 2020 Concerning Service Fees and Administrative Fines in the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation.