Dubai visa rules explained

According to Natalie Morrison, an associate at Hadef & Partners, your visa options are limited when your job ends

The Knowledge

What happens to your visa when you finish with your company?
In Dubai the way in which you obtain your resident’s visa will depend upon the location of your employer’s business – in the Emirate of Dubai (ordinary Dubai), one of the freezones or DIFC. When your employment ends in any of these three locations, you are entitled to end-of-service benefits and your residence visa and labour card (or other similar work permit) are cancelled. You have a grace period of 30 days, within which you can apply to transfer your sponsorship to a new employer. If you don’t do this you get an automatic employment ban for six months. This ban can be lifted, but a fee has to be paid by your new employer.

Are there ways around this?
To help redundant employees, some companies are not immediately cancelling visas. This will allow you to stay in the country and look for work. We in fact don’t recommend this course of action to employers. The reason is that the company remains responsible for you and this leaves the company exposed. In any event, this arrangement is irregular and could lead to penalties for the company and you, particularly if you are caught working for another company. You could also be banned from working in the UAE.

So what options exist for people who want to stay?
You could set up your own business, using a local sponsor. Another option for people working on their own is to open an office in one of the less costly freezones, such as in Sharjah or RAK. Bear in mind that you are supposed to work in the freezone where your business is located. This does not restrict where you live. There could soon be other ways to obtain a resident’s visa. The idea of a six-month visa for anyone owning a property over a certain value is being considered at the moment. There is also talk of a multiple visa, which will enable you to reside in one GCC country and work in another. However, these options are not yet available.

Can we just do visa runs?
Ultimately it is a lot easier to stay here for some nationalities and categories of professionals. There are around 30 ‘preferred nationalities’. If you are a ‘preferred national’ you are entitled to be issued with a 30-day visit visa automatically on entry into Dubai, which can be extended for a further 30 days upon payment of a fee. In practical terms a visit visa will enable you to look for new employment, but not work. At the present moment, there appears to be no policy that would restrict the number of times you can enter on a visit visa.

How do we set up in a freezone?
If you’re interested in the freezone option, have a look at the freezones’ websites. This should indicate the freezone that is most appropriate to the business you are intending to set up and the conditions to fulfil to obtain a licence. The freezones work on the ‘one stop shop’ principle, which means that as a licensee, you will only have one authority to deal with, which should make running your business much simpler from a regulatory point of view. Of course, a good lawyer may come in handy to assist you with any tricky areas!

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