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Immigration developments in the MENA Region

Date Posted: Mon, 04 Feb, 2019

Immigration developments in the MENA Region

February Immigration update from Fragomen FZ LLC

United Arab Emirates

The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that the issuance of long-term residence permits for investors, outstanding students, foreign nationals with exceptional talents, and similarly-situated foreign nationals, as determined by the UAE government, will begin on 3 February 2019.

Though the general conditions for granting long-term permits are established in the law, it is expected that the adjudication process will involve a degree of discretion as the final decision will be made by a newly-formed Investors’ Committee (for investors) and Entrepreneur and Specialized Talents’ Committee (for the remaining categories of applicants). Both committees will submit their recommendations to the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, which will endorse the visas.


Healthcare professionals seeking employment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can benefit from a Visiting Doctor License issued by the Dubai Healthcare City Authority (DHC), which allows for a one-year residence to secure employment with a clinical facility within the DHC Free Zone. The license confirms their eligibility to work as physicians in the DHC and allows a foreign professional to obtain a one-year residence permit sponsored by the DHC Authority (it is not renewable). The permit can later be converted into an employment residence permit under the sponsorship of a new employer in the DHC.


The Ministry of Interior announced the opening of a visa service centre for pre-arrival immigration process in Karachi, Pakistan. In October 2018, the first centre was opened in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Going forward, all new employment visa applicants will have to complete their medical examination, biometric data and employment contract before obtaining an entry permit for travel to Qatar.


Foreign nationals travelling under visitor visa for Gulf Cooperation Council country (GCC) residents based on a residence permit issued by the United Arab Emirates (this visa is obtained upon arrival in Qatar) are subject to entry restrictions in Qatar. While no official announcements have been made by the Qatari authorities, in practice, the issuance of visitor visas for GCC residents based on United Arab Emirates’ residence permits has been discontinued. However, it is still possible that some foreign nationals may be allowed entry, though with increased scrutiny.

Saudi Arabia

Foreign nationals who are not residents of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can no longer apply for visas to Saudi Arabia through the Saudi visa application centre in Dubai. Although no official announcement has been made, this information was conveyed to Fragomen verbally by a representative of the Saudi visa application centre in Dubai – VFS Tasheel International. Previously, foreign nationals applying for Saudi visas could do so through the Saudi visa application centre in Dubai even if they were not residents in the UAE.


The Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD) announced that the validity of block visa approval will be two years, instead of one year only. In November 2017, the MLSD issued a decision reducing the validity of block visa approval from two years to one year.


Visit visas for South Korean tourists and business travellers to Saudi Arabia are now issued with a maximum validity of five years and a total duration of stay for up to 90 days. Previously, visitor visas (including a Commercial Visit Visa and a Work Visit Visa) for Korean citizens were typically issued with a validity of one year only. This comes as a result of an approved Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of Saudi Arabia and South Korea that aims to support tourism and business travel among citizens of both countries.


Eligible employers in Saudi Arabia can now replace a departing employee with a new one without having to obtain a separate block visa approval. The process referred to as ‘a replacement block visa’ is now reinstated, after the Ministry of Labour and Social Development suspended it in 2015.


The Ministry of Labour and Social Development announced that starting 2 February 2019, the effect of newly-hired Saudi and foreign employees as well as any departing employees toward each company’s Saudization will be reflected in the company’s Nitaqat rating immediately. Currently, the Saudization rate is calculated based on average numbers of Saudi and foreign employees over a period of 26 weeks. According to the announcement, only companies classified under platinum, high green, medium green and low green ratings in the Nitaqat system over the last 13 or more weeks will be subject to the new calculation.


Effective immediately, companies classified under a medium green rating in the Nitaqat system can apply for block visa approval, which is required to employ foreign nationals. Previously, only employers with high green and platinum ratings could benefit from the block visa process. According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Development’s announcement, only employers with Nitaqat rating maintained at medium green level or above after having obtained the block visa will be granted approval.


Foreign investors in Oman can now sponsor residence visas for dependents, according to a new law implemented by the Royal Oman Police. Previously, only foreign investors in a real estate could sponsor visas for their immediate relatives. Additionally, foreign investors, including property owners, can sponsor residence visas for dependents regardless of the visa applicant’s age. Previously, the maximum age of a sponsored dependent was set at 21 years.


The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced changes to Pakistan’s entry visa policies, including the introduction of a new e-visa system, expansion and modification of business visa and visa-on-arrival programs and a revised process for obtaining a work visa. The list of countries whose nationals will be eligible for the respective visa categories along with further visa conditions is anticipated to be announced in the beginning of February.