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A 13 Step Guide to Getting a Work Permit in UAE

Long term employee assignments in UAE require a work permit (also known as a Labour Card), and there are multiple detailed rules that have to be followed.  Some of these steps will take place prior to the employee entering the UAE, while others can be taken after arrival. Once finalized, a work permit is typically valid for two years.

For employment outside the free zones, there is no need to secure a work permit prior to traveling, but an entry visa on arrival must obtained. When the worker lands in UAE, an Employment Entry Visa is collected from a desk prior to the immigration checkpoint, which is valid for 60 days while the work permit is being processed.   

Here is a breakdown of each of the stages for obtaining the Entry Visa, as well as securing both a work permit and residence visa in the UAE. Estimated processing times are listed, which can total up to 40 days from start to finish.

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Stage One: Obtaining the Employment Entry Visa in UAE

1.    Visa Quota Approval

The first step towards getting the Entry Visa (and work permit) is to get visa quota approval from the Ministry of Labour (MOL), and the employer will apply for this on behalf of the employee.  If the visa is for application in any of the free zones, quota approval must be granted before the employee enters the UAE.

Free zone companies have a quota restriction on work visas, generally limited to one foreign worker for each 12.5 square meters of office space. In addition, for all companies with more than 100 employees a quota is imposed for some positions. If a quota is already reached, a quota upgrade can be applied for, but is not guaranteed.

Time to Process: This typically takes three working days to get approval.

2.    Job Offer Contract and Signature

The next step is sending the job offer contract for the employee’s signature, and having them return it to the employer. It must be in both English and Arabic, as well as the employee’s native language (if that is different).  This confirms that the employee is arriving for a valid work position, and the offer letter will be reviewed by the MOL.

Time to Process:  This can be expedited electronically and completed in two working days.

3.    Work Permit: Approval of Application

Before the Entry Visa is issued, the work permit application must be approved. During this approval process, the Ministry of Labour usually bases its decision on whether there are no unemployed UAE citizens who could perform the job, and that the sponsor is a registered UAE corporate entity. Otherwise, the approval should be granted.

Time to Process: 3-5 days

4.    Employment Entry Visa

Upon receipt of work permit approval, the Ministry issues an Employment Entry Visa also known as a pink visa) which allows applicants to legally enter the UAE. This permit is valid for 2 months from the date of issue and allows the holder to remain in the UAE for a period of 30 days, extendable twice while the formal work permit is being approved.

Time to Process: 3 days

Stage Two: Obtaining the Work Permit and Residence Visa in UAE

5.    Entry to UAE with new Entry Permit / Visa Change of Status

There are two options to enter the country and begin the work permit process.  If the Entry Visa was ready prior to arrival, then the employee picks it up on arrival at the airport.  If the employee was already in the UAE on another type of visa, they will have to apply for a visa ‘change of status’ after the entry visa is issued (or they can leave and re-enter the country with the Entry Visa).

Once the employee enters the country, they have sixty days in which to complete all the formalities required to get a work permit and residence visa. It is advisable to get these procedures done as soon as possible rather than waiting till the last moment.

6.    Medical Screening

The UAE requires all foreigners to go through a medical screening before the work permit can be issued.

Time to Apply: 1 Day

7.    Emirates ID Application/Biometrics

The employee then needs to go to the Emirates ID service center after getting the relevant form typed up at any typing center. An original valid passport and employment entry permit are required to apply for an ID and have the biometrics done.

Time to Apply:  1 Day

8.    Medical Screening Result

The medical screening results have to be obtained and included in the application.

Time to Process: 1 Day

9.    Labour Contract Signature

A signed labour contract must also be submitted as part of the work permit application.  There is a new deadline for the contract, and it must be sent to the MOL within 14 days following the issuance of medical results.  The labour contract can be uploaded to the MOL website.

10. Receipt of Labour Card/Work Permit & Contract with Start Date

Once the work permit is received, that is when payroll can officially start through the official UAE system. 

Time to Process: 5 Days

11. Medical Health Insurance Card Application

Because health insurance is now mandatory in UAE, all employers must provide coverage for expat workers (or they have to buy it on their own).  The work permit cannot be issued or renewed without a valid insurance card.

Time to Process: 5 Days

12. Residence Visa Stamping in Passport

All expat workers and their family members will need a residence visa to legally live in UAE.  The visa is required to open bank accounts, register a car and open a PO Box.

Time to Process: 3 Days

13. Emirates ID Collection

In addition to the work permit, the employee will receive an Emirates ID card, which is useful for everyday identification purposes (rather than carrying a passport).

Time to Process: 10 Days after Residence Visa is stamped in the passport

The Shield GEO Solution

If you consider the time and complexity of all these steps, it becomes apparent why companies assigning employees to UAE often look for assistance.  The challenge lies in finding experts and resources inside the UAE that are familiar with local laws, and already have an established a presence in the country to help you.  At a minimum, you need a locally incorporated entity to sponsor the work permit, as well as advice on submitting all of the requirements listed here in this guide.

Shield GEO already has the resources in the UAE to navigate all immigration, employment and payroll regulations for your HR department.   Our local Employer of Record in UAE will handle the entire scope of work permit and visa applications for you, and ensure that your staff meet every one of the immigration requirements in UAE. 

In this way, you will be able to deploy staff quickly while focusing on your important management and business activity, rather than endless regulations and unfamiliar rules for assigning employees.  The Shield GEO employment solution for international assignments is designed to make your employee assignments simple and fully compliant.

Need help employing in UAE? Get in touch!

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