Expats and work permits in the GCC


Work in any Arab Gulf country and you have to have a work permit, which entails sponsorship from a prospective employer. In Dubai, if you didn’t work inside a freezone- in other words, if you worked in Dubai proper - you couldn’t just transfer to another job without first obtaining the permission of the existing employer that you could move to another company. That rule only changed about 10 years ago.

 If you are working for a local company, as I was, expect your passport to be retained. I complained and refused to do so; my ID card was taken instead. I rang the British Embassy when I knew my passport was being confiscated (I have British and New Zealand passports with all my Middle East visas in my British passport) and I was told that even though it was illegal to retain someone else’s passport it happens all the time, usually on the part of employers, and there was nothing the Embassy could do about it. How’s that for exerting authority?

With this in mind, I was intrigued to read the attached article about expats only obtaining work permits if an Emirati couldn’t do the job. Nice thought, but I didn’t work with any Emiratis while at Khaleej Times.

Here’s an article that was printed on 14/03/2018 in Dubai-based Khaleej Times


FNC urges Minister to set up database of jobless Emiratis so that they are not overlooked.

All expats applying for work permits in private or public sectors, must now pass a 'database procedure' that ensures that suitable Emirati candidates - looking for the same job - are not overlooked, heard the Federal National Council (FNC) on Tuesday.

FNC members raised their concerns to Nasser bin Thani Juma Al Hamli, the Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, about job opportunities for Emiratis and argued that that all entities must adopt a recruitment system that ensures Emiratis are prioritised for any new job openings.

"If I know an Emirati who is jobless, I have to do something about it," said FNC member, Hamad Al Rahoomi.

"We are a priority, we are locals and we are not finding jobs in our country - this is not normal," he told the Minister.

"The government is very concerned about Emiratisation in the private sector, and everyone should contribute towards that," the Minister said.

However, Al Rahoomi pointed out that businesses across the country have not implemented Article 14 from the Federal Law No. 8 for 1980, regarding work regulations.

"Why is Article 14 of the Federal Law No. (8) for the year 1980 concerning the organisation of labour relations and its amendments on this subject not implemented?" He asked.

"It is not permissible to issue a visa or a work permit (to an expat) for any job, which an Emirati is suitable for. The article since 1980 to date has not been implemented, and applied."

Al Rahoomi stressed that all sectors must be closely monitored by the Ministry.

To reinforce his point, the member gave a presentation on one institution in the UAE, that had 55 per cent expat employees.

"We are talking about institutions that are not abiding by this article," he added.


The Council thus argued that a database must be created for all entities to ensure that - prior to issuing work permits for expats - government, semi-government and private entities have to make sure that there isn't a suitable Emirati candidate available to fill the job opening.  

"These organisations do not have databases of Emiratis looking for jobs," said Al Rahoomi.

"You are the only one who knows, so you should link Emiratis looking for jobs to the availability of jobs," he told the Minister.

"Anyone who is not under the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation needs to prove that there are no Emiratis - registered in the database - looking for a similar job."

Responding to the criticism, the Minister said that the authority has set up various initiatives to increase employment among Emiratis, including initiatives such as the National Recruiting Programme.

He pointed out that in 2016 there was a tie-up with the private sector under the programme, wherein more than 70 organisations trained Emiratis.

The Minister added that there were 5,608 Emiratis recruited through the programme in 2016, and around 6,800 in 2017 - a 22 per cent increase.

However, he stressed the importance of developing stronger partnerships: "The ministry's efforts on this issue are concrete and we support these efforts," the Minister reiterated.

The Council thus called for setting up special programmes for graduate students and specialised programmes for Emiratis to fill positions held by expats and recommended that all work permits to only be issued if job openings cannot be filled by Emiratis, which the Minister agreed on.


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Wednesday, 17 August 2022