The number of people moving abroad for work has grown substantially in recent years, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a top destination. The UAE’s simple employment visa requirements contribute to its large expat community, which makes up 88% of the population.
Before moving to the UAE, expats, or foreign nationals, must apply for a UAE work visa. This application process involves several steps, such as choosing the right work visa, obtaining an entry visa, applying for an Emirates ID, and getting a medical checkup.
In this guide, we compare the UAE’s various work visas, provide a list of required documents needed for visa application, and walk through the steps of the application process.
We also detail how working with an immigration expert simplifies the entire work visa process for global companies interested in hiring UAE expats or relocating talent to the UAE.
Before entering the UAE for work, foreign nationals must obtain a UAE work visa. Foreigners can choose from three types of UAE work visas: standard work visa, Green visa, and Golden visa. The right visa depends on the circumstances of each applicant.
Standard work visa
A standard work visa in the UAE is an employer-sponsored work visa that permits an expat to live and work as an employee in the UAE for two to three years. After this time, the employer must renew or cancel the visa.
A standard work visa is one of the most common options for working or hiring talent in the UAE. It requires an employment contract and approval from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MoHRE).
Before arriving in the UAE on a standard work visa, a foreign national must accept a job offer in writing and obtain an entry permit. The entry permit allows them to enter the UAE and begin the process of officiating their work visa and residence visa.
In October 2022, the UAE introduced the Green visa to attract and support foreign freelancers and self-employed individuals in the UAE. The Green visa grants holders residency for five years and, unlike the standard UAE work visa, does not require employer sponsorship.
The Green visa has additional benefits, such as the ability to sponsor immediate relatives to relocate to the UAE, a six-month grace period upon visa expiry or cancellation, and a simplified application process.
The documents required to apply for a Green visa vary depending on the applicant's work category. However, standard required documents include a valid employment contract or self-employment permit from the MoHRE, proof of education, and proof of sufficient income during the applicant's stay in the UAE.
The UAE’s Golden visa is an extended residence permit that allows professionals with exceptional qualifications to live, work, and study in the UAE for 10 years without a local sponsor. People who qualify for the Golden visa are usually doctors, scientists, athletes, inventors, artists, healthcare staff, or others with select qualifications.
Golden visa holders enjoy various benefits, such as access to exclusive health insurance packages and the ability to sponsor unlimited immediate family members and support staff. They can also spend unlimited time outside the UAE without impacting the validity of their visa.
The list of supporting documents for a Golden visa varies depending on the applicant’s background. An eligibility quiz on the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs, and Port Security (ICP) website clarifies whether or not a person qualifies for the Golden visa.
Anyone over 18 can legally work as an expat in the UAE, provided the employer and employee meet the MoHRE’s standards. Below is a general overview of the MoHRE’s conditions for working in the UAE:
- The employer has a valid operating license
- The employer has no violations
- The employee’s work corresponds to the nature of the company’s operations
- The employee has at least a high school diploma
There is no maximum age limit for applicants, but employers must pay an additional AED5,000 (US$1,360) fee every two years for employing workers over 65 years old.
UAE employment visa requirements vary, depending on the visa category. Below is a general list of the required supporting documents for a UAE work visa application:
- Original passport and copy
- Passport-sized photos in line with UAE requirements
- Emirates ID card
- Entry permit from the Ministry of Labor (MoL)
- Medical certificate issued by a government-approved health center in the UAE
- Copies of the employee’s academic qualifications with authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a UAE Embassy in the employee’s home country
- Documents from the employer, such as their commercial license and company card
The employer is responsible for the work visa application process and related costs, while the employee is responsible for submitting documents for the residence permit.
It’s helpful to think of the UAE work visa application process in three stages: getting an employment entry visa, applying for an Emirates ID, and obtaining a residence visa and work visa. We outline the stages and their steps below.
Stage 1: Obtain an employment entry visa in the UAE
1. Apply for an entry visa quota approval
If the applicant resides and works in one of the UAE’s 46 free zones, the employer must apply for a UAE free zone visa, which requires visa quota approval from the Ministry of Labor.
Free zone employers have a quota restriction on work visas, which vary across free zones. For example, the quota in Dubai is one visa per nine square meters of office space. If an employer reaches their quota, they can move to a larger office or apply for a quota upgrade.
2. Submit a signed employment contract
Upon receiving quota approval, the employer must submit a signed work contract to the MoL for approval. The contract must be in English, Arabic, and the employee’s native language if it differs from either language.
3. Submit a work visa application and apply for an entry visa
The employer must submit their work visa application for approval. At this stage, the MoL confirms that the sponsor is a registered UAE corporate entity and determines if any unemployed UAE citizens can fill the vacant position instead of the foreign applicant. The MoL must approve the work visa application before issuing an entry visa.
4. Receive an employment entry visa
Upon approval of the work visa application, the MoL issues an employment entry visa, also known as a pink visa. The entry visa is valid for two months for standard and Green visa holders and six months with multiple entries for Golden visa holders. It allows the employee to legally enter the UAE to formalize their work visa and apply for a residence visa.
The employee receives the entry visa upon arrival to the UAE. If they cannot travel to the UAE within 60 days, they may apply for a one-time extension. If the employee is already in the UAE on a different visa, they must apply for a visa ‘change of status’ or do a ‘border run’ to obtain the entry visa upon arrival.
Upon entry, the employee must begin collecting supporting documents for their residence visa application, such as an Emirates ID and health certificate, while the employer submits additional documents to officiate the work visa.
Stage 2: Apply for an Emirates ID
5. Apply for an Emirates ID
Foreign nationals entering or relocating to the UAE for work must get an Emirates ID, which is necessary for the required medical screening. The ID directly links to the expat’s residence visa and serves as an everyday identification document in the UAE in place of a passport.
To apply for an Emirates ID, the employee must visit an Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA) center with their passport and entry visa and provide biometrics, such as their fingerprints and a photograph.
Stage 3: Obtain a work visa and residence visa in the UAE
6. Get a medical checkup
All applicants must receive medical screening at a government-approved clinic in the UAE. The results of the checkup are required for the residence visa application.
7. Submit a labor contract
As a part of the UAE work visa formalization, employers must upload their employee’s labor contract to the MoL website within 14 days of receiving the employee’s medical screening results.
8. Get health insurance
Health insurance is mandatory for all expat employees in the UAE. In some Emirates, such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, employers must provide health insurance for employees and their families.
If a foreign employee resides in Sharjah or one of the northern Emirates, they must purchase their own health insurance plan. The MoL does not issue or renew work visas for employees without a valid health insurance card.
9. Receive a work visa and begin payroll
After completing the above steps, it takes about five days for the MoL to grant an official work visa. Upon receiving the work visa, employees can legally begin working in the UAE, and employers can start administering payroll through the official UAE system.
10. Receive a residence visa
Once all of the above items are in place, the employee must submit the required documents with their application for a residence visa. If the applicant hasn’t received their official Emirates ID, an application receipt will suffice. The residence visa is valid for two years and is renewable.
All expats need a residence visa to live in the UAE, and the MoL lists the employee’s work visa as part of the residence visa. Expats also need a residence visa for completing formalities, such as opening bank accounts, registering a car, and opening a PO box.
One of the unique considerations for acquiring a standard work visa in the UAE is that every applicant requires sponsorship from a legally incorporated entity in the UAE. This requirement complicates the process for foreign companies interested in hiring talent in the UAE.
If a company has not established a local entity in the UAE but wants to employ foreign nationals, it can partner with an employer of record (EOR) instead. An EOR is a third-party organization that serves as the legal employer of your global workforce so you can hire talent outside your home country without establishing a local entity.
An EOR handles everything from onboarding and payroll to visa requirements and compliance so companies can reap the benefits of global mobility by testing markets in the UAE and hiring UAE expats or locals without risking noncompliance with UAE employment and immigration laws.
Learn more: What Is an Employer of Record (EOR)?
Despite the UAE’s comparatively simple visa requirements, obtaining UAE work visas comes with unique challenges for global employers and expats. Eliminate the hassle and compliance risks by partnering with Velocity Global.
Velocity Global’s integrated Global Immigration solution simplifies visa acquisition for distributed workforces in the UAE and beyond. As part of our Employer of Record (EOR) solution, we handle document collection, translation, and administration while ensuring compliance with evolving immigration laws so you can hire or relocate talent in foreign markets with ease.
Get in touch with Velocity Global today to learn how to remove the stress of global immigration and quickly hire top talent in the UAE.