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United Arab Emirates – Work Permits and Working Legally

Working Legally in the United Arab Emirates

For expats considering employment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), understanding the requirements for obtaining a work permit is crucial. Working legally in a foreign country not only ensures compliance with local laws but also provides security and stability during your stay. In this article, we will delve into the necessity of obtaining a work permit in the UAE, who is responsible for the application process, potential exemptions, the various types of work permits available, eligibility criteria, the application procedure, required documents, associated costs, and sources of reliable information for expats.

Necessity of a Work Permit in the United Arab Emirates

Expats are required to obtain a work permit, commonly known as a “labor card,” to work legally in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE government has strict labor laws that mandate all foreign nationals seeking employment within the country to hold a valid work permit. This requirement applies to both employees and self-employed individuals.

Working without the appropriate work authorization in the UAE is illegal and can result in fines, deportation, and other legal consequences. Therefore, it is crucial for expats to ensure they have the necessary work authorization before commencing any form of employment in the UAE.

Who Applys for a Work Permit in the United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates, the responsibility for applying for a work permit primarily falls on the employer. Employers are required to initiate the work permit application process on behalf of the expat they intend to hire. The process involves several steps, including:

  1. Labor Approval: The employer must first obtain “labor approval” from the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE). This approval confirms that there is a job vacancy that cannot be filled by a UAE national, and it specifies the terms and conditions of employment.
  2. Entry Permit: Once labor approval is granted, the employer applies for an “entry permit” on behalf of the expat employee. This entry permit allows the expat to enter the UAE for employment purposes.
  3. Medical Fitness Test: After entering the UAE, the expat must undergo a mandatory medical fitness test to ensure they are in good health.
  4. Residence Visa: Upon passing the medical fitness test, the employee is issued a “residence visa,” which allows them to reside in the UAE for the duration of their employment.
  5. Emirates ID: The final step involves obtaining an Emirates ID, which is a mandatory identification card for residents in the UAE.

While the employer is primarily responsible for the work permit application process, expats play a crucial role by providing the necessary documents and information to their employer to facilitate the application. Self-employed individuals, such as freelancers, must also apply for their work permits independently.

Exemptions from Work Permit Requirements

While work permits are generally required for foreign nationals working in the UAE, there are some exemptions and specific categories of expats who may not require a labor card. Some common exemptions include:


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  • Free Zone Employees: Employees working within specific UAE free zones may be exempt from obtaining a labor card, as they are subject to the regulations and rules of the respective free zone authority.
  • Investors and Business Owners: Individuals who own businesses or investments in the UAE may be eligible for different types of visas, such as investor visas or partner visas, which grant them work privileges without a traditional labor card.
  • Certain Professions: Some specific professions and job categories, such as artists, writers, and certain medical professionals, may have alternative visa options that do not require a labor card.

It is essential to note that the availability of exemptions may vary based on specific circumstances and regulations. expats should consult with the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) or legal experts to determine their eligibility for exemptions.

Types of Work Permits for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates offers several types of work permits and visas to cater to the diverse needs of expats. The specific type of work permit or visa required will depend on factors such as the nature of the job, the employer, and the individual’s qualifications. Some common types of work permits and visas include:

Each type of work permit or visa has its own eligibility criteria and requirements. expats should carefully assess their situation and consult with the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) or immigration experts to determine the most suitable option.

Eligibility for Work Permits in the United Arab Emirates

The eligibility criteria for obtaining a work permit or visa in the United Arab Emirates can vary depending on the type of permit applied for. However, some common requirements and conditions include:

  • Having a valid job offer from a UAE-based employer (for sponsored employment visas).
  • Meeting specific skill and qualification criteria relevant to the job role.
  • Passing a medical fitness test to ensure good health.
  • Complying with the regulations and requirements of the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE).
  • Providing a valid employment contract outlining terms and conditions.

The specific eligibility criteria may change over time, so expats should check with the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) or immigration authorities for the most current information relevant to their situation.

Procedure to Apply for a Work Permit in the United Arab Emirates

The process of applying for a work permit or labor card in the United Arab Emirates typically involves several steps, and it is essential to follow the correct procedure. Here is an overview of the general application process:

  1. Labor Approval: The employer initiates the process by obtaining labor approval from the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE). This involves demonstrating the need for hiring a foreign national and specifying the terms of employment.
  2. Entry Permit: After receiving labor approval, the employer applies for an entry permit on behalf of the expat employee. This allows the employee to enter the UAE for employment purposes.
  3. Medical Fitness Test: Upon arrival in the UAE, the expat must undergo a mandatory medical fitness test to ensure they are in good health.
  4. Residence Visa: Following the medical fitness test, the employee is issued a residence visa, which allows them to reside in the UAE for the duration of their employment.
  5. Emirates ID: The final step involves obtaining an Emirates ID, which is a mandatory identification card for residents in the UAE.

The processing time for work permit applications can vary, and it is advisable to start the process well in advance of the intended employment start date to allow for potential delays. The exact timeline may depend on factors such as the type of work permit, the employer’s efficiency, and the workload of government authorities.

Documents Required for a Work Permit in the United Arab Emirates

When applying for a work permit or labor card in the United Arab Emirates, expats must provide a set of essential documents to support their application. While the specific documents may vary depending on the visa category and individual circumstances, here are some common documents typically required:

  • A valid passport with at least six months of validity remaining.
  • The labor approval from the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE).
  • A valid job offer or employment contract with a UAE-based employer.
  • Medical fitness test results, confirming the employee’s good health.
  • Passport-sized photographs.
  • Emirates ID application form and fees.

It is essential to check the specific document requirements for your chosen visa category and ensure that all documents are prepared correctly and submitted as part of your application.

Costs Involved in Applying for a Work Permit in the United Arab Emirates

Obtaining a work permit or labor card in the United Arab Emirates may involve certain costs that applicants need to consider. These costs may include:

  • Visa application fees, which vary depending on the type of visa and processing speed.
  • Medical fitness test fees.
  • Emirates ID application and issuance fees.
  • Other miscellaneous fees related to document processing and government services.

The specific costs can change over time, so it is advisable to check with the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) or relevant authorities for the most up-to-date fee information. Applicants and employers should budget for these expenses when planning to apply for a work permit or labor card.

Finding Reliable Information on Working Legally in the United Arab Emirates

Expats seeking reliable information on working legally in the United Arab Emirates can access valuable resources and guidance from various official sources. Here are some recommended sources for reliable information:

  1. UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE): The official website of MOHRE provides comprehensive information on labor laws, work permits, and visa requirements.
  2. Official Government Portal of the UAE: The government’s official website offers insights into workplace regulations, labor rights, and employment-related information.
  3. Immigration and Visas Portal: This portal provides details on immigration and visa regulations, including work permits and residence visas.
  4. Legal experts and immigration consultants: Consulting with experienced professionals in immigration law can provide personalized guidance and assistance throughout the work permit application process.


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