Need to hire employees in the UAE? With almost 90% of the workers being foreign-born, the United Arab Emirates has one of the largest international migrant stocks in the world.

These foreign nationals work on temporary employment contracts in a wide array of skilled and unskilled jobs, spanning industries such as construction labor, technology, and healthcare.

However, red tape and complex immigration laws can pose challenges to companies interested in hiring foreign workforce.

Here are a few steps and guidelines to ensure you comply with immigration laws when hiring talent in the UAE.


How Can a Company Hire Employees in the UAE?


To hire foreign workers in the UAE, you should start by familiarizing yourself with the UAE work visa and permit requirements for foreign nationals.

Additionally, you should get the right government approvals.

Below you will find the key steps you must follow to hire workers from abroad.


Step 1: Get a Company Establishment Card


A Company Establishment Card or Company Immigration Card is an official document that enables you to complete the required procedures related to hiring foreign employees and issuing their UAE work visas.

Put simply, you won’t be able to apply for resident visas on behalf of foreign employees unless you possess the card.

A Company Establishment Card is issued by the Immigration authority where your company is registered.

For instance, if your company is registered with Hamriyah free zone, the registration authority will request the Hamriyah immigration authority to issue the Establishment Card.

Do note that if your company is registered with a free zone, the application for an Establishment Card is often processed automatically once your company is set up.

However, if you’re running a mainland company, you will be responsible for managing the Establishment Card application yourself at the competent immigration authority.

As you may already know, the UAE has three major jurisdictions where you can register your company: free zone, mainland, and offshore.

You can choose the location that best fits your company’s needs based on your budget and the activities you wish to carry out.

Typically, it takes up to two weeks for the immigration authority to issue the Establishment Card.

The fees for the Establishment Card may vary. For some free zones, for example, the costs are included in the company set-up costs. However, other free zones charge separately an amount that may vary between AED 600 to AED 1,500.

On the other hand, mainland companies may pay up to AED 5,000 in order to obtain the Establishment Card.

In the majority of cases, the Card is typically granted for a duration of one year for companies in free zones, whereas mainland companies can obtain an Establishment Card valid for a 3-year period.


Step 2: Obtain a Work Permit


After obtaining a Company Establishment Card, the next step is to apply for a work permit on behalf of the prospective employee.

Pursuant to Article 6 of the UAE Labor Law, foreign citizens cannot work in the UAE without a valid work permit.

The work permit must be issued following the procedures outlined by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE).

Depending on the nature of the job, MoHRE issues different types of work permits you may choose from.

In most cases, employers must first submit an application for a temporary work permit that allows the worker to enter the UAE and complete the rest of the legal procedures required.

Before applying for a work permit, you must provide the worker with a work contract.

You can submit the application for a work permit via the MoHRE website, MoHRE smart app, Business Service Centers, or TAW-SEEL, a mobile service providing MoHRE services.

Please be aware that MoHRE may not consent to the hiring of foreign citizens unless it ensures that there are no qualified nationals capable of carrying out the required activities.


UAE Work Permit: Required Documents, Fees & Processing Time


Some of the documents you must submit when applying for a work permit include:

  • Photograph of the prospective employee


  • A copy of the worker’s passport


  • Employment contract signed by both parties


  • Academic certificate and/or professional license, if applicable


  • Duly completed application form


The cost of issuing a UAE work permit ranges from AED 250 to AED 3,450.

This depends on your company’s level of adherence to the UAE’s labor regulations and relevant resolutions and directives.

Do note that there is no age limit to hire foreign employees in the UAE. However, the work permit approval for individuals over 65 costs AED 5,000 every two years.

Usually, it takes 4-5 working days for MoHRE to issue the work permit.


Step 3: Apply for a Residence Visa


Once approved, the UAE work permit serves as an entry permit. It allows foreign workers to enter the UAE and reside in the country for a maximum of 30 days.

However, you can extend the work permit for another 30 days, allowing the holder a maximum stay of 60 days.

During this period, you must arrange with your employee to get a residence visa.

Your worker must also go through a medical check and obtain adequate health insurance, alongside other requirements.

You must submit the application for a UAE residence visa to the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) of the relevant Emirate in the UAE.

Some of the documents you must provide include:

  • Proof of employment


  • Duly completed application form


  • Original passport and a copy


  • Passport photos


  • Copy of company card and commercial license


  • Medical check-up certificate


  • Work permit/Entry permit


Depending on the Emirate you submit your application, the processing time may vary between a few working days to two weeks.

After obtaining a valid UAE residence visa, your worker can request an Emirati ID card. Typically, the competent authorities take 2-4 weeks to issue the ID card.


Hiring Employees in the UAE: Further Considerations


Prior to employing foreign workers in the UAE and starting the necessary legal procedures, you may want to take into consideration the subsequent factors:

  • MoHRE may deny your application for a work permit if your company does not comply with the Wages Protection System or another system implemented to govern the domestic labor market.


  • If your business is registered in a free zone, it has a quota restriction on visas. This quota depends on the size of your office space. This quota may vary across free zones. For instance, in Dubai, you can apply for one visa per 9 square meters of office space.


  • Mainland companies with more than 49 skilled employees must hire UAE nationals alongside foreign nationals. Specifically, they must increase the number of Emirati employees by a minimum of 2% every year. For example, if the company has 50 skilled workers, it must hire one UAE national every year. Or, if the company has 51-100 skilled workers, it must hire two UAE nationals every year.


  • According to UAE’s current labor law, you can implement a probationary period for foreign workers that can range from 3 to 6 months.


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