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United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Visas, Residency, Immigration & Documentation
Obtaining a visa to visit or live in UAE is essential for most people, although there are some circumstances in which they are not needed. It depends a great deal on where you are from and how long you intend to stay. For those who wish to visit the United Arab Emirates for a short period of time, it may not be necessary to have a visa. Residents and citizens of certain countries will not require a visa for a visit of up to 30 days, which may be extended to 90 days in certain circumstances and with the approval of the authorities. Most European countries qualify in this category, although those from the UK will need a passport that reads ‘British Citizen’. If this is not the exact wording then a visa is required.
Residents of other countries including Australia and the USA also qualify for a short stay with no visa. A complete list of countries that qualify can be found on the website of the UAE immigration department. All visitors must adhere to several other regulations. These include holding a valid return ticket to the home country and having a passport which has a minimum of three months left to run. Those who want to stay in the country for longer periods will need a passport which has six months left to run.
With some Gulf countries there is a problem for those with an Israeli stamp in their passport to gain entry, but this is no longer the case with UAE.
Those who do need visas will find that there are a number of different types. A transit visa can be issued for a period of 96 hours and is for those who only need to be in the country for a few days on a stopover or while catching connecting flights. These are given on arrival and are based on the list of names provided by the airline. In order to have a transit visa the final destination must be a different country than the starting point of the journey. Transit visas are also available for some nationalities for a period of just 8 hours. This depends on where you have come from and where you are going to. The airline that you are travelling with can advise you on the need for a transit visa and give guidance on how it is obtained, though in most cases this is applied for by the airline themselves.
Those who are spending a short period of time in UAE, perhaps for a few days business trip, will find that an entry service permit is the visa that is required. This can be used within 14 days of the issue date and is valid for 14 days from the date of entry. This type of visa cannot be renewed. It must be requested by a sponsor, who will need to supply the visitors travel details and a photocopy of their passport. The passport should be valid for a minimum of three months. This type of visa can be issued at short notice for an extra fee.
Those who wish to be in UAE for more than 14 days will need a visit visa. This is mainly for those who are visiting family or who are on business for more than two weeks. Visitors must be sponsored either by a company or by a family member. If the sponsor is an expatriate then a hefty deposit must be paid if the visitor is not an immediate family member. This deposit is refundable. This visa is only valid for a period of two months from the date it is issued. This type of visa can be renewed to take the total period of stay to 90 days. An additional fee is payable for this extension.
The sponsor must provide the relevant travel details of the visitor, a photocopy of the visitor’s passport and send a fee for the visa. The passport must be valid for a minimum of three months. The travel details must include information on the return flight home.
A tourist visa is available for those who are coming from Eastern Europe and other countries that do not qualify for the visa-free short stay. This type of visa cannot be renewed and allows the visitor to remain in the country for a period of 30 days. A hotel or travel company is able to sponsor the visitor on this type of visa and make the application on their behalf.
A multiple entry visa is available for business visitors who regularly need to visit UAE and who work with a company that is based there. This visa is valid for a period of six months and visitors are allowed to remain in the country for 30 days at a time. This is a non-renewable visa. The visitor is first issued with a visit visa and can apply for the multiple entry visas when they first arrive in UAE. A German citizen is able to apply for a multiple entry visa of one or two years duration, if they do not intend to spend more than 3 months each year in UAE and a fee is payable but this can be applied for without a sponsor. UK citizens can apply for a multiple entry visa of up to 10 years duration. UK citizens do not need a sponsor and will not need to pay a fee. This allows visitors to spend up to six months a year in the country.
Visas for living and working in UAE need to obtain the relevant visa through a sponsor in the country, usually the employer. If the intention is to work in UAE then you must ensure that your visa is in place before you go to the country. The processing time for this type of visa can be as little as a few days, depending upon your reasons for travel and the length of time you wish to stay in the country. Sponsorship just means that you are invited to the country and sponsors are deemed to be responsible for their visitor while they are in UAE.
The sponsor needs to gather all the information and apply for the visa on behalf of the applicant. A copy of the passport is needed and the application is made to the immigration department in the destination Emirate.
Some visas may require the applicant to make a visit to the embassy in their home country in order to have their application process. Letters from the sponsoring company are required to confirm the invite to the country as well as a passport sized photograph. An appointment will need to be made at the embassy as it is unlikely that applicants will be allowed in without one. These visas are those for short stays, rather than long term visits.
A person travelling on a visitor’s visa is not allowed to take up any employment in the region. A person can travel to the country on a visitor’s visa to attend a job interview or arrange employment, but then needs to leave the country and return home while the proper working visas are arranged by the sponsoring employer. A firm offer of employment must be made in order for a working visa and residency permit to be issued.
The sponsoring employer must register with the immigration department for permission to employ a foreign worker. In order to obtain the correct type of visa, the employer must also present details of the applicant’s qualifications and work experience. Once these details have been approved an entry visa is granted and the formalities are completed once the applicant is in the country.
A visa for employment is unlikely to be issued if it is considered that the work could be carried out by a local person. Most expats travelling to work in UAE are skilled workers who are filling a gap in the workforce.
Each Emirate has its own department of naturalisation and residency and applications should be made to the Emirate in which the applicant wishes to live and work. The specific requirements of each department will differ slightly but the basic visa application process is the same. There are some visa agencies operating that can assist with visa applications, but using a visa agency is no guarantee of success and applicants should be aware that they will have to pay the agency a fee as well as the visa fee itself.
The processing of visas by UAE authorities has improved a great deal in recent years and now they can be issued within a few days of application, providing all the information given is correct and the relevant fees are paid. Any inconsistencies will result in the application being delayed or rejected if it is considered that the application is being made under false pretences.
Fees are regularly reviewed, so applicants should always check the website of the authority to which they are making the application to ensure that they have the latest information on fees.
There are a several reasons for applying for a residency permit in UAE. The main ones are to take up a position of employment or to join a family member who is living and working in UAE. It is also possible for a UAE national to sponsor a relative who is not a UAE national to move to the country.
A person is first issued with an entry permit which allows them to move to the country while they are waiting for the relevant residency permit to be authorised. The entry permit is applied for by the employer, who must apply for permission to hire a foreign worker and submit the relevant documentation for the employee along with a copy of their own commercial licence, although the procedure depends on the type of company. As far as the applicant is concerned this is not an issue as it is the employer who must deal with all the relevant paperwork for the visa application. The entry permit will only last for two months and the formalities for the full residence permit need to be completed during this time otherwise the applicant will be forced to return to their home country while they are waiting.
The application must be made to the department of residency in the Emirate where they want to live and work. An individual cannot make their application to the embassy in their home country and must wait while the sponsor makes the relevant application on their behalf. There must be a job for the worker to go to. A person cannot obtain an entry visa or residency visa in order to just spend time in the country looking for employment.
When submitting documentation for a residency permit, the applicant must have a passport with a minimum of six months left to run. Some Emirates may ask for the passport to have much longer left to run. Documents such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate if applicable, driver’s licence, copies of qualifications, work experience details and references may all be requested by the authorities.
An applicant will also have to undergo a medical examination. A potential worker will need to be in good health and the medical examination will ensure that they are up to date with vaccinations and that they are free from any sexually transmitted diseases. Once the applicant is living in UAE they may be required to undergo a further examination. The medical examinations cannot be carried out by the applicant’s own doctor and travel to an authorised medical centre will be necessary. It will be necessary to take along the passport and the details of the entry visa.
Medical assessments need to be carried out each time a residence permit is due to be renewed. Visas and permits are normally issued for a period of three years, but can be easily renewed if the employer can produce evidence that the foreign worker is still required.
When a residence permit is issued it will normally also include the wife and dependent children of the worker, but the salary attached to the job must be able to cover the living expenses of the whole family. It will not allow the wife to work in the country and for this she would need her own permit. It is much more difficult for women to obtain a residence permit of their own and unheard of if they are single women. It is much better for a woman to travel to the country under the protection of her husband or father.
Applicants for a residence visa are now required to have their fingerprints taken as part of the new biometric data scheme. This will provide applicants with more secure identification and make it much harder for permits to be faked. This is becoming normal practice in countries across the world in order to make travelling more secure.
Some Emirates have plans to introduce or are in the process of introducing a short cultural test for those applying for residency. This is to ensure that the workers understand the differences between the culture in UAE and that of their home country.
Fees for the applications are normally met by the employer, although there is usually a small processing fee which is payable when the applicant submits their documents for checking. Fees are updated regularly, so the applicant should check the site of the Department of Immigration for the relevant Emirate state to ensure that they have the right amount of money.
If an individual who is the holder of a residency permit chooses to spend more than six months of that time outside the country then they lose their right to residency status. The residence visa must be stamped in the passport otherwise it will be difficult for a person to travel in and out of the country.
Processing times for visas and residency permits in UAE have improved a great deal in recent years and they can now be obtained fairly quickly. Delays can be caused if the relevant paperwork is not completed correctly or if any essential documentation is not submitted with the form. For example, the request for authorisation from the employer will contain all the relevant details of the vacancy to be filled by the foreign worker. However, on the information submitted by the worker, if the details do not match then the application can be rejected.
If an application is rejected for any reason then in most Gulf States it is unlikely that the applicant will be reconsidered for that particular vacancy or any others.
Those who have obtained a residence visa on the basis of a job offer are not able to change jobs at a later date. This is because the sponsor will have spent a lot of money to bring the worker to the country and the system is designed to protect the sponsor. A worker should wait until the end of their contract and then return to their home country and reapply for another job and permit.
Expatriates living and working in UAE are not eligible for citizenship. In recent years there have been moves to allow expats to apply, but this has been rejected by the UAE authorities.
There are only one or two ways in which a foreign national can obtain citizenship and the system does not make it easy for them. It should be noted that there is a difference between being granted a UAE passport and being granted citizenship. A passport from the UAE does not automatically confer citizenship status.
A foreign national who marries an Emirates citizen can obtain citizenship, but only after ten years of marriage. This is to be sure that a person has not just married into the country in order to obtain citizenship. Applying in this way means that a person will also have to provide evidence that the relationship is genuine and enduring, and applicants will have to be prepared to be questioned thoroughly about their relationship.
The downside of this is that dual nationality is not permitted, so applicants would need to be prepared to surrender the passport given in their home country. In most cases this is sent to the embassy of that country with a statement declaring the applicant’s intention to renounce their original nationality, so it is not possible to keep hold of that nationality without the knowledge of the authorities.
Another way in which a person can claim citizenship of UAE is if they were born outside the state to a UAE father. The child is automatically considered to be a UAE citizen, but will not be permitted to hold dual nationality. If a child of a UAE father has been raised in another country on another passport they will have to surrender that passport before they can be issued with one from UAE. A child who is born within the country to expat parents will not automatically be entitled to UAE citizenship. A child is only entitled to the citizenship if the father is already a citizen. The nationality of the mother has only just begun to be taken into consideration, but there are still difficulties if the father of the child is not a UAE national.
Those who consider that they may be entitled to citizenship should contact the Naturalisation and Residency Department within the Emirate in which they are living. Each Emirate has their own department and will have their own requirements for making an application, although all will want to see marriage certificates, birth certificates and other evidence relating to the claim. The applicant will have to give up their passport from their existing country before a UAE passport is issued, so travel while the application is being processed will not be possible.
A person who is entitled to citizenship will have to demonstrate that they are of good character, and prove that they do not have a criminal record either within the Emirate to which they are applying, or in any country they have previously lived in for a significant period of time. They should show that they are currently living in the country and intend to continue doing so. The applicant should also be prepared to show that they are able to speak Arabic fluently and have made an effort to integrate into their community.
There have been instances of fake agencies which have been established by criminals to ‘issue’ UAE passports to unsuspecting applicants. All applicants should be aware that only the relevant government department is able to issue a genuine passport. Fake passports are easily spotted and the penalties are severe.
Saeed bin Tahnoon St.
Tel: 02 4462244
Aditaba Road, near Dubai Islamic Bank, opposite Carrefour supermarket.
Tel: 03 7625555
Department of Naturalization and Residency, Trade Centre Road, near Bur Dubai Police Station
Tel: 04 3980000
Department for Naturalization and Residence, near General Post Office
Tel: 06 5726777
Tel: 06 7666419
Tel: 06 7422255
Tel: 07 2273333
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