Except for UAE nationals (and GCC nationals for the most part), all residents need permission from the UAE government (the Ministry of Immigration or equivalent) to live in Dubai and the UAE or visit the UAE. Each emirate has their own immigration department so it is possible the rules vary slightly but for the most part they are consistent in each emirate. What is more likely is that the same rules are interpreted differently, and/or applied differently by different emirates and to different nationalities. Keep this in mind if encountering difficulties with visa and work permit processing.
As well as permission to visit or live in the UAE, all non-Emirati workers also need permission to work, and the UAE Ministry of Labour (MOL) is in charge of issuing work permits (or labour cards) to working expats, except for maids who have their work permits processed at the Immigration Department. This is all covered in more detail in the pages about Dubai maid visas, working in the UAE, and UAE visas but the above summary is repeated here as an introduction.
Expats and visitors may be subject to an entry ban and/or a work ban depending on who they are and/or what they’ve done while they’ve been in the UAE. There are two types of bans.
UAE Labour Ban still applied but can be lifted – 10 June 2013
A Gulf News newspaper report said that labour ban rules in the UAE were still in force but expats could apply to have a ban lifted, and quoted anonymous officials apparently from the labour department, although, ironically, the report or the official seemed to be reading information from this page in a couple of places. The report seemed to mostly repeat information already known, but just in case there is something new, a summary is:
- A lifetime ban (blacklisting?) can be imposed if a worker absconds (“does a runner”).
- A one year ban is imposed if a worker resigns before completing a limited period contract and the employer requests the ban. Not clear if the ban is applied if the employee is terminated by the employer.
- A six month ban is automatically imposed in most other cases if an employee has not completed two years of service (and sometimes even if they have).
- A six month ban can be lifted if the employee:
- moves to another job or company but with the same sponsor.
- moves to a job with a minimum salary of AED 5,000 for high school diploma holders, AED 7,000 for post-secondary school diploma holders, or AED 12,000 for Bachelor degree holders.
- Not clear if an NOC is required – previous law change in 2011 seemed to indicate an NOC was not needed, but this latest report quoted an anonymous official as saying ‘No one is allowed to switch jobs even if they complete many years in their [current job], without the consent of their sponsor“, and the report also said “workers complained that they were being banned for one year for failing to secure … sponsor’s approval for employees who have been with their sponsors for two continuous years“. So try not to annoy your employer when quitting, you might still want an NOC from them.
- The bans apply to wives or husbands under their spouse’s sponsorship for residency (a change from previous law). Or other expats under sponsorship of a relative for residency.
Automatic 6 month work ban for expats sponsored by spouse for residence visa 08 September 2012
- Gulf News reported (08 Sep 2012) that an anonymous official at the Ministry of Labour said expats sponsored by their husband or father (it wasn’t clear about those sponsored by their wife) for a UAE residence visa now received a 6 month employment ban after leaving their job if they hadn’t worked in the job for a minimum of 2 years.
- The report said Officials had previously stated that women who take up employment while remaining under the sponsorship of a male relative are not affected by a work ban. The ministry has now come round to the view that in cases where a wife or daughter decides to change jobs or to leave work without completing two years of employment, she will be automatically banned by the Ministry of Labour for six months.
- And quoted the MOL official as saying “Bans are imposed on all expatriate employees working in private sector when they want to move from one employer to another if they left employer without having completed a minimum of two years service“
Lifting UAE Labour Ban and new company classification system – update 08 August 2011 (Gulf News)
Workers in the UAE who receive a 6 month labour ban for breaking contract within 2 years can have the ban lifted under the following conditions according to reported comments from the UAE Ministry of Labour:
- Minimum qualification held is a high school diploma.
- Minimum salary in new job is AED 5,000 for HS Diploma holders, AED 7,000 for diploma holders, and AED 12,000 for Bachelor degree holders.
- Ali Al Shehi, Senior Administrator at the UAE MOL was quoted as saying “We are still imposing the six-month labour ban on employees who quit their jobs before completing two years of service, but the ban can be lifted if the new employer offers the candidate a good position and an appropriate salary,“
From January 2012, a new fee scale will apply for Labour Permit applications.
- There will be four categories of companies depending on activity, number of employees and nationalities, and qualifications.
- Labour Permit fees will be AED 600 for B1 companies, AED 1,500 for B2, AED 2,000 for B3. There is also a category C but permit fee information not supplied.
- New companies will be put in category B2 when first registering with the MOL.
UAE Labour Law new labour ban rules in Dubai and UAE – January 2011
- From Saturday 01 January 2011, the minimum period of employment for which a labour ban is not imposed is 2 years (previously was 3 years apparently).
- This only applies to employees on unlimited contracts, or possibly workers on a limited contract who complete their contracts or terminate contracts before expiry with the agreement of their employer.
- Contact UAE labour law update for more details.
Applying for new work permit while banned
- Khaleej Times reported 29 September 2010 that someone from the Ministry of Labour (MOL) said that employers can start processing work permits for banned employees before the ban period is over to facilitate quicker issue of labour cards.
- Which sounded a bit strange since our understanding was that the MOL automatically blocked any new applications until after the ban period had expired.
- Unknown how long before end of ban period an application can be made.
- Jassim Jamil, acting Director General, Work Relations Department at the MOL was quoted as saying “This system demonstrates the MoL’s commitment to grant the blacklisted worker the opportunity to search for another job. Likewise, the employer wishing to hire him can initiate a transaction for issuing a new work permit before the end of the ban duration to save time,”
- Mr Jamil also reminded us that “The UAE is keen to give workers and companies all the necessary facilities to ensure the continuity of work relations for the best interest of the employer and the employee in compliance with the spirit of the law,” leaving blacklisted workers scratching their heads and wondering why there was even a ban on them in the first place.
1. Immigration Ban
An immigration ban means you cannot enter the UAE, whether as a visitor or for residency. Israeli citizens for example are banned (except for Israeli tennis players … sometimes) due to their nationality, but just having a stamp from a visit to Israel shouldn’t result in denied entry to the UAE (unless immigration is looking for an excuse to turn you away). Other bans can arise if you have been convicted of a criminal offence while in the UAE. Common offences that many expats get into trouble with are bad debts, bounced checks, drinking and driving, drunk in public, inappropriate relationships (having sex on the beach while drunk with someone you’re not married to, for example). Of course, more severe offences such as theft, violence, rape, murder etc will also result in an immigration ban but not so many expats indulge in these activities, and those that do are not usually so surprised to receive a ban.
An immigration ban can also arise if you have broken the rules related to immigration for example entering the country illegally, working without a work permit, absconding (leaving your job without informing your sponsor / employer), overstaying (this last one is not so likely to be a problem, just expensive when you get your overstaying fine).
Criminal offenses usually result in a permanent ban and this is monitored via eye-scanning equipment at airports, so losing your passport and getting a new one won’t get you back in to the country.
In the past, there was a 6 month or 1 year temporary entry ban for expat residents (not visitors) after they had left the country but this is no longer in existence (which doesn’t mean it can’t change in the future). Now, if you get a 6-month employment ban, you can still re-enter the UAE for a visit (but if you use that as a way to come back and work, and get caught, expect a lifetime immigration ban as a result). If you get a 1 year employment ban, there are conflicting reports about whether you can visit the UAE or not. Assume no unless you can confirm otherwise with the UAE immigration department.
2. Employment Ban
An employment ban, labour ban, work permit ban are all different terms for the same thing i.e. you are not allowed to work in the UAE for a certain period of time.
- An employment ban is usually for 6 months, 1 year, or permanent (see additional explanations further down).
- A 6 month ban is normally automatically imposed when leaving a job unless there is a reason not to, or a longer ban is imposed. The ban is on providing a work permit or labour card, imposed by the Ministry of Labour (MOL).
- A 1 year ban is often imposed if a worker resigns before completion of a limited period contract.
- A permanent ban is usually imposed on absconding employees, or those that break the labour law in some way that does not result in a 1 year ban.
- Nothing is stamped in your passport but when a new employer hands in an application to the MOL, it will automatically be rejected if a ban is on your computer file.
- A 6 month labour ban does not affect permission to visit the UAE – you can still enter on a visit visa or tourist visa.
- If you have a 1 year or permanent labor ban you might also be restricted from visiting the UAE – check with the immigration department first.
- A permanent ban is permanent according to a 21 August 2011 report in Emirates Business 24-7 of comments by Humaid Dimas, the Assistant Undersecretary for Labour Affairs at the MOL, who was quoted as saying “As for workers who get a permanent ban on jobs in the UAE because of absconding and other offenses, they can not work again in the country…the ban will not be lifted at any time as it is irreversible.“
Ban lifting fee
There are some reports (in 2008-2009) that you may be able to pay a ban lifting fee of about 5000-6000 dhs. Other reports and comments indicate it is possible to lift a ban on payment of AED 500 per month of remaining contract duration if leaving before the end of a limited period contract. Official confirmation of a ban lifting fee not found so it could be variable depending on profession, nationality, company, mood of the official you’re dealing with, wasta, which emirate you’re in, what zone your DVD player is set to, and any other variables you can think of. Although the MOL website does still have a document from 2007 outlining the fees and categories of qualifications that are exempt from a ban or can get a ban lifted. It seems to be related to previous ban information but might still apply. Don’t count on it but if you have no other choice, it’s worth trying.
No ban on sponsor transfer
It may be possible to avoid a ban, or lift a ban by paying a fee, if you transfer from one sponsor to another. This is different from cancelling your residence visa and work permit, then applying for a new visa and labour card. A transfer of your sponsorship will at least need a No Objection Certificate (NOC), possibly payment of a ban lifting fee, and might be restricted to certain occupations. Check with the labour department in the emirate you are working in.
1 year ban
A one year labour ban for Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the UAE will usually be imposed under the following conditions
- expatriate workers leaving government jobs
- expatriate workers who break the terms of their labour contract and/or the labour law
- expats who lose a case with the UAE labour department against their employer, if they were on a temporary work permit because they had filed a complaint with the labour department (according to a Gulf News report 02 August 2009 and other follow-up media reports)
- possibly against workers who leave their job within one year of starting (at employer’s request)?
6 month ban
A six month ban will be imposed on everyone automatically, unless they cop a one year ban, or fit into one of the exceptions below. The ban is automatic – a GN report 08 Sep 2012 quoted an anonymous MOL official as saying “This is an administrative ban, meaning that a block is inserted into the ministry’s computer system preventing an application for labour approval being processed against banned person’s name and passport number.”
No labour ban will be imposed on anyone in one of the following categories
- UAE citizens are not subject to any labour ban (or immigration ban for that matter)
- Expatriate workers moving to a government job will not receive a ban (don’t confuse this with workers leaving a government job – they get a double whammy)
- Oil company employees
- Expat workers moving to another employer within the same free trade zone (not to a different free trade zone)
- Expats who have completed a fixed term contract and have given proper notice of not renewing it
- Expats who have completed 1 year of an unlimited contract AND get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the current employer. It may be a requirement that the new job has the same job title as the old job.
- Expats who are sponsored by their spouse for a residence visa (unless they breach the labour law in some way that brings down a ban). Update 08 Sep 2012 – apparently this no longer applies, they get an automatic 6 month ban unless employed for more than 2 years.
- Expats who have worked for a company for more than 3 years on an unlimited contract? Unconfirmed.
Where many expats get tripped up is when they work for more than a year but do not complete the full period of a fixed term contract. They can expect to get a ban even if the company provides them with an NOC.
Exceptions can be made but require a trip to the Ministry of Labour (MOL) to explain your situation and give them a good reason why the ban should not be imposed. A company going bankrupt, or the owner of the company doing a runner or dying are examples of what might prompt some leeway from the MOL. An employee getting into a fight with his or her boss, or not performing satisfactorily, is unlikely to be viewed with any sympathy, even if they claim their boss was being unfair.
If your boss really is being unfair or you have a legitimate complaint, your first step should be to file a complaint with the UAE Labour Department so that there is a documented record.
Other exemptions from employment ban
According to Article 63 of the “General Provision for the Entry Permits and Visas” legal document (as seen on DNRD website), “no new Entry Permit or Visa may be issued for employment except after the elapse of six months from the date of the last departure from the territories of the State“, but the following categories of workers are exempted:
- Doctors, Pharmacists and Male Nurses
- Agricultural Guides
- Qualified Accountants and Auditors
- Administrative Employees holding university degrees
- Technicians operating on scientific, electronic instruments and laboratories
- Drivers licensed to drive heavy vehicles and buses, in case the transfer of sponsorship is to a similar party
- Workers in private oil companies when the transfer is between such companies
Unknown if this is current information (DNRD document is undated). Last checked 01 March 2009 but document appears to be more than a year old, so may have been superseded by changes to UAE visa rules in 2008.
Ban lifting fees in UAE
- The UAE MOL website (as of September 2010) lists “Transfer of Sponsorship” fees information, with additional fees payable for workers who have not completed their contracts but wish to change jobs (of about AED 3,000-5,000).
- It’s not clear if these fees are applicable only if the worker obtains a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from employer.
- Fees are the same those that were implemented during 2006-2008 when workers were permitted to transfer to another employer.
- As usual in the UAE, nothing is clear. If you want to know about getting a ban, and whether or not you can pay a ban lifting fee, ask the UAE Ministry of Labour helpline. Then ask again the next day to see if you get the same answer.
It will be wise at all times to contact the relevant UAE immigration authority to avoid getting stuck when re-entering the country.
Note: Visa rules, requirements, prices or any figures mentioned in this website can and do change suddenly, and without a warning. Information here may not be complete or accurate. We recommend to check always the UAE embassy in your country or the relevant authority in the UAE.