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Visa and Labour bans Dubai UAE

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Dubai and UAE visa bans

Many websites (yes, including this one), newspapers, friends at BBQs, friends of a friends who were just terminated or just found a great job, etc, might give you incorrect information. This is not usually deliberate but a consequence of misunderstanding about a specific case, changes in rules, how rules are applied, etc. Call the Ministry of Labour and the Dubai Immigration Department hotlines (call Dubai for any UAE emirate immigration question) to confirm anything. Even official government websites are sometimes out of date.

For example, many sources will tell you even if you get a labour ban, you don't need to worry if you get a job in a free zone in the UAE since the UAE Labour Law doesn't apply in free zones. It is dangerous for your career to assume that is correct. Each free zone is different in the UAE and you need to confirm with the one you are applying to if that advice applies. Even if it does today, it might not tomorrow, or it might depend on job title, salary, anything else you can or cannot think of.

Find the correct authority department and confirm with them any information you are relying on. A phone call is not that difficult to make, and they are usually helpful within the limits of what they can tell you. That means:

Except for UAE national citizens (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:

Automatic 6 month work ban for expats sponsored by spouse for residence visa 08 September 2012
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:

From January 2012, a new fee scale will apply for Labour Permit applications.

UAE Labour Law new labour ban rules in Dubai and UAE - January 2011
Applying for new work permit while banned

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 offences 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.

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

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

No labour ban will be imposed on anyone in one of the following categories

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:

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

Financial and Economic Crisis 2008-2009

During the economic downturn that started in late 2008, large numbers of expats were losing jobs due to the "financial crisis". It is possible that the Ministry of Labour will be less enthusiastic about imposing a labour ban on expats who lose their job for such a reason and want to transfer their sponsorship, since it could be argued that they have left through no fault of their own. Some companies may also keep employees on their sponsorship to give them more time to find a new job (expats must normally leave the UAE within a fixed period of time after residence and work permit cancellation). There's no definitive rule in these cases, you will need to negotiate with your employer and/or the Ministry of Labour.

No more labour ban?

Reports in February said that the UAE Ministry of Labour was reviewing the 6 month labour ban rule. A Gulf News report 01 March 2009 quoted Abdul Razzaq Qambar, a training officer at the ministry, as saying "The ministry is studying different means to facilitate labour movement within the country and the reviewing of the ban is part of this". That could mean that a change is announced tomorrow, or next year, or never. In other words, don't get too excited.

Previous ban information

For the curious, and the archives, this was older information about residence and labour bans (expired in 2005 / 2006 when an automatic 6 month labour ban was introduced?)

In March 2006 it was announced that under certain conditions and payment of fees (between 1500 and 9000 dhs), the labour ban could be waived for those wanting to change jobs. The conditions are (according to the Gulf News 08 March 2006):

  Category A Category B Category C
PhD or MA
Dh1,500 Dh2,500 Dh3,500
BA or equivalent
Dh3,000 Dh3,500 Dh4,000
All others
Dh5,000 Dh5,500 Dh6,000

The first condition appeared to introduce a stumbling block right off the bat - to waive the ban, the permit has to be cancelled without a ban in the first place. Getting up to date details from a reliable source (even official government sources appear to contradict each other - website vs spokesperson vs press release for example) is not always easy.

Last update Tuesday 03-Mar-2015
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