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Country Spotlight

What You Need to Know About Work Permits, Visas in the UAE


By Ben Harden and Rob Day


The United Arab Emirates, often referred to as the UAE, is usually an attractive Middle East location for many businesses looking to set up operations in the region.

In fewer than four decades, it has transformed itself from a country strongly reliant on agriculture and fishing into one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the Middle East, with world-leading infrastructure and business prospects.

The UAE consists of seven independent emirates, including two major business hubs, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Since the UAE continues to be one of the most popular destinations for professionals across the world, it has become a very competitive recruitment landscape. As a result, despite some recent initiatives, the majority of the UAE’s workforce is made up of expats from all over the globe.

This allows many companies to have higher expectations and a stricter criterion when hiring new employees. As a result, the recruitment process is typically longer, so it’s important to keep this in mind when setting out your hiring timeline.


Ministry of Labour Documentation

As a business, before you can hire expats in the UAE, you will need to obtain two legal documents—an ”establishment labour card” and an ”establishment immigration card” from the Ministry of Labour. These documents set out the legal obligations of businesses when employing international workers, including, but not limited to:

  • Working hours
  • Government health cards
  • Work contracts
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Annual leave entitlements
  • Sick leave
  • End-of-service benefits

To apply for both of these documents, you will need a company trade licence and a company P.O. Box address. The applications must be submitted to the Ministry of Labour by the owner of the company, partner, or Public Relations Officer (PRO) used to help process the government documents needed to have a business in the UAE. The PRO cards are often issued on the spot if approved. 

The UAE Ministry of Human Resources has shared a helpful article, Opening an Establishment Card, which includes information about the application process, conditions, timing, payment, and frequently asked questions. 


Work Permits

Once you have obtained your company’s establishment labour card and establishment immigration card, you are now able to apply for work permits on behalf of your employees.

As the employer, you are responsible for applying for work permits on behalf of your employees and for all cost incurred during the application process. Once you have issued your employee a contract, you will be able to apply for a residence visa and work permit.

Also, it is important to note that if you are looking to employ someone who is already in the UAE with a work permit, it is essential that this handover is managed compliantly; otherwise penalties may be applied.


Work Visa Process, Documents Required

There are a few steps in the process of obtaining a UAE visa. First, you must collect the following documents to get applications submitted:

  • Passport copy
  • Passport photos
  • Education certificates
  • Ministry of Labour onboarding forms

From here, the Ministry of Labour approval is acquired within about one week. Once this has been granted, e-visas are then issued within the next five to seven working days.

Once e-visas have been granted, your new employee is then able to fly to the UAE. Upon arrival, there will be a few more formalities to complete, which include having a UAE medical and police clearance.

If your employees need access to specific sites (e.g., in the oilfield), they would also need to obtain the relevant security passes.


Dependent Visas

ChartsCountSpot2If your employees will be living in the UAE with their spouse or children, they will require dependent visas. Similar to the above, they will need the necessary compliance items such as medical insurance. However, if the employee is male, he will be able to sponsor his own family members provided they have a valid permit and meet a minimum salary of Dh.4000 or Dh.3000. Females are able to sponsor their husbands; however, there are extra conditions.

Find out more information about how employees can apply for dependent visas from the “Family-Dependent Visa” webpage.

More information can be found in our “Free UAE Work Permits and Employment Visas Guide.”

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Ben Harden joined Leap29 in 2005. As a Global Operations Manager, he manages Leap29’s Workforce Management division, including payroll, mobility support, and workforce solutions.


Account Manager Rob Day joined Leap29 in 2008 and looks after the workforce management for one of Leap29’s major clients, including the onboarding and payroll of candidates across North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.