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United Arab Emirates Immigration Update

Over the past month a number of immigration changes have been implemented in the United Arab Emirates and to UAE Visas. The changes come as an attempt to create a smoother and more efficient process. One major change sees the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law for companies employing 100 to 999 workers.

Going Online

With immediate effect, the Dubai International Financial Centre has introduced an online application system for the following visa types: Residency visas, work permits, visit visas and renewal applications. The Dubai International Financial Centre is the last free zone within the region to introduce an online application process. The Ministry of Labour and other free zones in the region already require filling electronic applications for residency visas, work permits, visit visas and renewal applications.

The move to digital comes as an attempt to speed up and simplify the application process. As expected with any major change, some initial delays will occur as technical and practical issues are fleshed out, but in the long run this change will make the application process more efficient.

Businesses in the Dubai International Financial Centre which intend to employee foreign nationals will find the government processing time shorter and the process smoother as consistency will occur across the application process.

Although, some visa types are still subject to manual submission, such as individuals applying for dependent visas. It is also important to note that the actual issuance of the visa/ permit is still a manual procedure. Last year the Dubai free zone had trialled issuance of the visa/ permit but eventually abandoned attempts as they found difficulty with coordinating with the Dubai airports.

Machine-Readable Only

As an attempt to increase security through the entry ports, Dubai immigration authorities are no longer accepting handwritten passports when foreign nationals apply for a residence visa.

The phrasing out of handwritten passports is occurring on a global scale not just in the United Arab Emirates. The requirement for Machine Readable Passports was set by The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) who has requested all (191) member states to replace manual/ hand written passports with Machine Readable Passports before November 24th 2015. The move away from handwritten passports will make entry ports safer and allow for passports to be read quicker.

Those with manual/ hand written passports in Dubai who are applying for a residence visa will see a delayed process, as they will need to apply for a new Machine Readable Passport before progressing with applications. It is recommended that anyone on a manual/ hand written passport should make the change over to a Machine Readable Passport as the International Civil Aviation Organisation implementation date is only months away.

Health Insurance Paid by the Employer

Back in 2013 Dubai passed a landmark legislation that will phase in compulsory health coverage for all workers, including foreign nationals. The first phase of the Universal Healthcare Law saw companies with over 1000 employees targeted with the requirement of healthcare for all employees (local or foreign nationals).

The second phase is expected to come into force by 31 July 2015 and will affect all forms of United Arab Emirates work visas, renewal applications, intra-company transfers, company trade licences and establishment cards. The final phase of the project will see businesses with less than 100 employees implement the change, these companies will have until June 2016 to provide all employees with health insurance.

The government has stated that if health insurance is not offered, the company will be unable to sponsor foreign nationals.

The requirement will have a significant financial impact on businesses and will add extra costs when hiring an employee. Having seen the effect of the 2015 United Kingdom Immigration Health Surcharge on businesses, HR teams and business as a whole should budget plan to ensure the hiring process runs smoothly and is not held up due to the constrains placed by healthcare requirements. Medium sized businesses that do not currently offer health insurance as part of employee packages should develop plans sooner rather than later as authorities seem quite keen to clamp down on breaches of this law.

What is the healthcare package?

The Universal Healthcare Law is aimed at all citizens, foreign residents and visitors in the United Arab Emirates. The law will require that employers provide its employees with at least an “essential benefits package”, without deducting it from the employee’s salary. Employers are required to cover the employee for the duration of their employment, and should they lapse on this requirement they will be subject to the full cost of a worker’s health service as well as any emergency care.

The “essential benefits package” is estimated to cost approximately 600 Dirham per employee per year. Dubai Health Authorities are issuing special permits to health insurers that are seeking to sell health insurance plans to companies. Any employee that intends to sponsor family members will need to pay for their health insurance.

As Dubai authorities are working alongside the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, firms with 100 to 999 workers should heed the warning and ensure that they meet the Universal Healthcare Law by 31 July. Those that do not will find their sponsor licence withdrawn and their business unable to employee foreign nationals for visas or visa renewals.

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