IMMIGRATION DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MENA REGION
Date Posted:Wed, 9th Nov 2022
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United Arab Emirates
13 October 2022 – Maximum Three-Year Limit Removed from Employment Contracts of Employees in the Private Sector
The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates has amended the provisions regulating the maximum duration of an employment contract in the private sector.
The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates has amended the provisions regulating the maximum duration of an employment contract in the private sector. Employers in the private sector can now determine a duration longer than three years as long as the duration is mutually agreed to.
As per the new labor law issued earlier this year, it had disallowed unlimited-term employment contracts and only permitted the use of limited-term employment contracts with a duration not exceeding three years. The limit of three (3) years has been lifted by the new amendment and parties may mutually agree to enter an employment contract for a longer duration.
With the deadline of February 01,2023 to convert all employment contracts from unlimited-term to limited-term fast approaching, all employers are advised to review, and amend where applicable, their employment contracts to avoid any fines or sanctions.
04 October 2022 - ‘Study in Saudi Arabia’ Program and New Educational Visa Category Announced
The Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia announced a ‘Study in Saudi Arabia’ program to attract foreign talent by offering a self-sponsored short and long-term educational visa for study, research, and training.The Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia announced a ‘Study in Saudi Arabia’ program to attract foreign talent by offering self-sponsored educational visas.
According to the announcement, the visa will be categorized into short-(for up to a year) and long-term stays to nationals of 160 countries, seeking entry to Saudi Arabia. The short-term visa will cover short term language courses, trainings, study programs and exchange programs. The long-term visa will cover long term academic courses and
research visit programs.
It is not clear when the new visa category will be available, and what information the applicants will need to provide to support the process. Specific visa conditions, such as the maximum number of entries and eligibility to extend the visa validity have not been
announced yet. Finally, it is expected that the list of nationalities eligible for the visa will be published in a due course. Currently, foreign nationals seeking study in Saudi Arabia must first enrol into an educational program with an educational institute in the country. The institute will effectively act as the visa sponsor and will liaise with the relevant authorities to initiate the visa process at a Saudi consular post abroad.
17 October 2022 – Saudization Requirements Announced for Employers in the Consulting Sector
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has issued a decision related to Saudization requirements for businesses operating in the consulting sector.
The below table illustrates affected professions, new Saudization rates and effective target dates:
These professions were previously unaffected by Saudization rates, so relevant employers are advised to review the new Saudization requirements and comply with applicable
timelines. Non-compliant employers will be subject to penalties, including the suspension of new work permits and employment transfers.
28 October 2022 Professional Verification Scheme Announced for Select Saudi Visa Applicants in Pakistan
Following the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Professional Verification scheme in 2021, the next phase of the initiative has started which involves the evaluation of skills of foreign nationals seeking work in Saudi Arabia in their home countries, before they obtain an entry visa.
Following the introduction of Saudi Arabia’s Professional Verification scheme in 2021, the next phase of the initiative has started which involves the evaluation of skills of foreign nationals seeking work in Saudi Arabia in their home countries, before they obtain an entry visa. At this stage, the new requirement applies to Pakistani nationals seeking certain technical-based professions in Saudi Arabia (with more nationalities and professions expected to follow in the later phases).
Pakistani nationals seeking employment in certain technical-based professions will need to undergo theoretical and practical tests to evaluate their skills before they obtain an entry visa for Saudi Arabia. This new requirement stems from a collaboration between the Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), and Pakistan’s National Vocational and Technical Training Commission. The latter oversees the process referred to in Pakistan as Skill Verification Program.
Those who pass the tests with a minimum score of 50% will be issued an internationally recognized certification with a five-year validity, which will also allow them to apply for an entry visa for work. The test can be taken in one of the accredited assessment centres; completion time is approximately three hours. The test registration fee is PKR 4,000 (USD 18) per person, and the certification is issued for USD 25.
The Skill Verification Program is currently applicable to individuals seeking work in the following professions:
• steel fixer;
• automobile technician;
• electronic technician;
• civil technician;
• metallurgist; and
• metal caster.
The Professional Verification scheme was launched by the MHRSD in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation in 2021, to evaluate skills of foreign nationals working, or seeking work in Saudi Arabia. The initial phase of the program has been focused on the verification of those currently working in Saudi Arabia (applying to over 1,000 professions spanning 23 occupations), while the recently launched phase aims to evaluate candidates prior to entering Saudi Arabia for work. The government will apply the scheme to nationals from other countries in future phases.
The expansion of the Professional Verification scheme may create pressure for Saudi employers to recruit staff from Pakistan by limiting the pool of available candidates. It is also expected that the overall timeframe and the cost of employing foreign nationals will increase due to this additional step in the recruitment process. It is unclear if employers would be responsible for the examination fees.
11 October 2022 - New Regulations Issued for Mandatory Health Insurance Coverage in Qatar
The government of Qatar issued a new legislation regulating healthcare services which supplements the health insurance law and introduces specific obligations on employers and foreign nationals seeking entry to Qatar for different purposes.
The government of Qatar issued a new legislation regulating healthcare services which supplements the health insurance law announced earlier last year and introduces specific obligations on employers and foreign nationals seeking entry to Qatar for different purposes.
According to the new legislation, employers are now responsible for obtaining a minimum basic health insurance from an approved Qatari insurer for all employees, including their eligible dependent family members (i.e.: spouses and up to three children below 18). Providing health insurance beyond the minimum coverage is optional.
Employers who do not provide the required health insurance coverage will not be allowed to obtain a new work residence permit or renew the existing permits. Additionally, employers noncompliant with the new requirements, including those passing on the costs of the premium onto employees (or their dependents), may be subject to a fine of up to QAR 30,000 (multiplied by the number of employees affected).
The new legislation requires that foreign nationals traveling to Qatar as visitors, must now hold proof of health insurance valid for Qatar for the entire duration of stay. They may purchase a premium through one of the approved insurers in Qatar (the cost is QAR 50 per month) or may use their international insurance so long as the coverage includes Qatar.
Employers in Qatar and foreign nationals seeking entry to Qatar as visitors should familiarize themselves with the obligations brought by the new regulations to avoid penalties. Additionally, employers should revise their internal policies regarding health insurance coverage to ensure compliance with the new regulations.
21 October 2022 – Opening of an International Consular Services Centre at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
The government of Qatar announced the opening of an International Consular Services Centre that will be available to visitors attending the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
The government of Qatar will open an International Consular Services Centre (ICSC) to assist visitors attending the FIFA World Cup 2022 with consular services. The centre will be located in Hall 4 of the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre, equipped with 90 consular staff members from 45 embassies.
Further details on the ICSC can be found below:
Fragomen will continue monitoring the situation and will revert with additional information as developments occur.
27 October 2022 – Qatar Financial Centre Suspends Select Visa
The Qatar Financial Centre has issued a notification regarding the suspension of certain visa categories until further notice.
The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) has issued a notification regarding the suspension of certain visa categories until further notice. This temporary suspension is further to the restrictions announced earlier for entry to Qatar for all visitors not attending the FIFA World Cup tournament.
The following visa categories are temporarily not available on the e-services client portal for processing: -
a) Family Visa
b) Multi-Entry Work Visa
c) Business Visa
This decision has been made to ensure smooth business operations for all the FIFA visitors in anticipation of the significant immigration influx (over a million) expected during the FIFA World Cup tournament from November 1,2022, until December 23,2022.
It is unclear as to when the temporary suspension of these visa categories will be lifted.
Fragomen will continue monitoring the situation and will revert with additional information as developments occur.
31 October 2022 - Flexible Work Permit Program Discontinued
Effective immediately, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority is discontinuing application acceptance and issuance of the Flexible Work Permit for all foreign nationals.
Effectively immediately, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) is discontinuing application acceptance and issuance of Flexible Work Permits for all foreign nationals. This is part of broader reforms being introduced in the labor market, including a focus on retaining workers in the private sector and enhancing the verification of immigration status. Since this permit type does not require employer sponsorship and is not subject to Bahrain labor laws, employers are struggling with retainment and permit holders have continued employment on canceled or expired permits.
Flexible Work Permit holders would have received a notification from the LMRA informing them that the Flexible Work Permit program has been discontinued via short message service (SMS) and will be given a three-month grace period to regularize their immigration status based on the new reforms, however, further details on this process are still unclear.
The Flexible Work Permit program was introduced in 2017 to regulate the immigration status of self-sponsored foreign nationals residing or working in Bahrain on an expired or canceled residence visa on or before September 20, 2016. This program allowed Flexible Work Permit holders to work for employers in non-specialized fields on a contractual basis without a sponsorship requirement.
In order to facilitate comprehensive inspections to identify undocumented workers, the LMRA will soon open labour registration centres and an online portal so foreign nationals can report their employment status to authorities.
Employers will need to revisit their employment agreements with affected employees. Permit holders need to regularize their immigration status as soon as the process is announced to avoid any possible sanctions or penalties
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