How to apply for an employee and work visa in the UAE?

A new federal law has been in force in the UAE since 2022, which regulates employment relations. In particular, there are a lot of specifics that are easy to get mixed up in. That is why we have broken down the process of hiring and entering into an employment contract.
Applying for a work visa
You will need a work permit (Work permit), also known as a Labour Card, in order to work in the UAE. For the sake of convenience, as the term work visa is commonly used, we will refer to your work permit hereafter.

An important point to bear in mind is that a person who is illegally employed in the UAE without a work visa will be held liable for the consequences of his or her illegal employment. A person with a tourist or transit visa is not allowed to work in the UAE.

However, it is also possible to look for work while staying in the country as a tourist. Thus, an employee can enter the UAE on a tourist visa, find a job there, conclude an employment contract and then, with the help of an employer, re-register his status in the UAE to obtain an Emirates ID, a residence permit for work and a work permit itself.

It is also important that in the absence of an employer willing to arrange for an employee, it is not possible to obtain a work visa in the UAE. The employee will not be able to get it himself. He must have a sponsoring employer.

The whole process of obtaining a work visa can be divided into three stages: obtaining an entry permit, obtaining an Emirates ID, obtaining a resident visa and obtaining a work permit (work visa).
Entry permit for work (Entry visa)
The following conditions must be met in order to obtain an entry permit for further employment in the UAE:

  • the potential employee must be at least 18 years old. A person aged 15 years or over can work in the UAE under certain conditions;
  • the employing company has a valid business license;
  • the company must not have any irregularities;
  • the work to be performed by the person must be in line with the activities of the employing company.

Thus, any foreigner over the age of 18 can work in the UAE as long as they meet the standards set by the Ministry of Manpower and Emiratisation (MOHRE). However, it should be borne in mind that some professions in the UAE require additional licences from state authorities (e.g. doctors).

In order to obtain an entry permit, the employer submits the relevant application to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE).
The entry permit process takes two to three weeks. The employee is then sent a scan of the document by email. On arrival in the UAE, the employee must stamp the entry permit at the airport.

The entry permit is valid for up to 60 days from the date of issue.
Residence visa and work permit (Work Permit)
Residence visa for work is issued for two years with possibility of prolongation. It takes about 7 days to obtain it. Employees will need to submit the following documents in order to obtain a residence visa in the UAE:

  • application;
  • passport;
  • photo;
  • Emirates ID;
  • entry permit;
  • medical examination results;
  • copy of company card (establishment card) from the employing company;
  • copy of employer’s business license;
  • signed employment contract.
Passing tests, biometrics and obtaining an Emirates ID
Upon arrival in the UAE on an entry permit, the prospective employee must obtain his or her own Emirates ID card (Resident Identity Card).

The employee must also undergo a medical test at one of the UAE’s authorised medical centres.

After that, it is necessary to apply for an Emirates ID (Resident Identity Card). For this purpose, the employee must go to a special centre, where he/she must present his/her entry permit together with the original passport and a copy. Biometric data must also be submitted there.
How should an employment relationship be handled?
The relationship with an employee is formalised by an employment contract. The new law stipulates that the employment contract must be concluded for a fixed term not exceeding 3 years. However, in October 2022 the law was amended and the 3 year limit was abolished. Now the employment contract can be concluded for any term (e.g. 5 or 10 years) with automatic extension, but the term must be specified.

Thus, an employment contract cannot be open-ended. However, its duration is now determined by agreement between the parties.

The employer may appoint a probationary period for an employee, not exceeding 6 months from the date of commencement of employment (art. 9 of the Law dated 16.11.2021). The employer may dismiss the employee during the probationary period by giving 14 days' notice in writing before the date of dismissal.

In addition, labour law directly permits the inclusion of a non-competition clause with the employer (art. 10).
Minimum wage in the UAE
There is currently no minimum wage in the UAE. However, article 27 of the new labour law states that "the Cabinet may, on the proposal of the Minister and in consultation with the relevant authorities, issue an order fixing the minimum wage for employees or any category thereof".

It is therefore theoretically possible to establish a minimum wage in the future.
Procedure for the wage payment
Wages are normally paid in UAE dirhams, but may be paid in another currency if so agreed by both parties in the contract of employment (Article 22 of the Act of 16.11.2021).

Wages are paid in accordance with Ministerial Decree No. 43 of 2022 on the wage protection system. All institutions must pay the salaries of their employees on time through the Wage Protection System (WPS) approved by the Ministry, or any other appropriate system. Thus, salaries must be paid centrally through the WPS system.

However, the WPS system has only been introduced in mainland and freezone JAFZA. Accordingly, all wages must be paid through this system. All other freezones have not fully implemented this system, so questions regarding the payment of wages must be clarified for each freezone.
Other labour guarantees and rights of employees
Also, the Act of 16.11.2021 (art. 13) sets out a number of important employer obligations:

  • provide the employee with adequate accommodation or pay him or her a living allowance in cash or include it in his or her wages (this condition is usually reflected in the employment contract);
  • bear the costs of repatriating the employee to his or her home country or to any other place agreed upon by the parties, unless the employee has joined another employer, or if the termination of the employment contract is for a reason attributable to the employee.

In addition, the Labour Act also regulates the working hours of employees (art. 17). Thus, the maximum normal working time for employees must be 8 hours per day or 48 hours per week. An employee may not work more than 5 consecutive hours without a break or breaks of a total duration of at least one hour, provided that these periods are not included in working time (art. 18).

Should working conditions require an employee to work more than the normal working hours, the overtime period is overtime work for which the employee is entitled to be paid plus a premium of at least 25% of the wage.

Should working conditions require the employee to work overtime between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., the employee is entitled to receive wages plus a premium of at least 50% of that wage.
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