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United Arab Emirates
The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have approved a resolution to allow foreign students in the country to sponsor residence permits for their family members, provided they have sufficient funds to support them. The sponsorship criteria for eligible family members, effectiveness date of the law, financial terms and other details are not yet clear. Further details of the decision are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
As announced by the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia has agreed to reopen its land, sea and air borders with Qatar. The reopening of the borders comes ahead of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) summit which began on January 5, 2021. More details of an agreement are likely to be announced shortly. On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar resulting in the closure of all airspace, land and marine borders with Qatar. Signs of a resolution to the dispute have been growing over the past few months. Details related to the opening of borders, such as entry, residency, transit and business travel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar still remain either unclear or subject to changes without prior notice. It is expected that further announcements will follow the GCC summit.
Following the announcement of the reopening of the borders between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, other GCC countries and Egypt have also agreed to lift travel restrictions with Qatar. The official Al-Ula agreement, which was signed on January 5, 2021, confirmed the reopening of the airspace, land and sea entry points of all four countries with Qatar along with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations through bilateral talks. The following progress has been made so far:
Saudi Arabia has opened its land border with Qatar and air traffic has resumed with the first flight departing from Doha and landing in Riyadh on January 11, 2021; UAE and Bahrain have announced the reopening of their respective airspace with Qatar; and Egypt will resume air traffic with Qatar, reportedly from January 18, 2021. Additionally, it is expected that Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will resume air traffic directly to/from Qatar very shortly.
Effective immediately, foreign nationals above 60 must provide proof of private health insurance accepted in Qatar when applying for a new work residence permit or when renewing their existing work residence permit. This new requirement applies to all jurisdictions in Qatar and will apply until further notice. It is understood that affected applicants should be able to enrol into a private health insurance scheme upon their entry to Qatar based on the work entry visa. Those renewing their work residence permits will also have to provide proof of private health insurance during the application process in Qatar.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) has announced the launch of a Muqeem digital identification card for both foreign nationals and Saudi citizens. This new digital card replaces the plastic copy of the original residency permit and can be used in lieu of the physical Muqeem card for identity verification by the authorities within Saudi Arabia. Individuals may obtain the digital version of the Muqeem card by logging into the MOI’s new application Absher Afrad (“Absher Individuals”) and downloading the digital copy of their “Muqeem Digital ID”. Individuals may save a digital copy on their mobile phone and present it to the authorities without requiring access to an internet connection. The creation of the Muqeem digital ID will allow individuals to avail of certain services and conduct transactional services without presenting their national identity, physical Muqeem card, driving license or vehicle's registration. The Saudi authorities will also be able to verify the identity of individuals through the MOI’s “Maidan” security platform.
The Nationality, Passport and Residence Affairs Authority (NPRA) announced that foreign investors, property owners and retirees can now apply for their Bahraini residence permit online through the NPRA’s website. Previously, applicants had to submit the required paperwork at one of the NPRA’s branches in person. Eligible foreign nationals may avail of the service and obtain a renewable residence permit valid for up to 10 years. The program does not permit employment and individuals seeking work in Bahrain should secure the relevant work authorization from the Labour Market Regulatory Authority.
The Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) announced the extension of the mandatory labour market testing period for the recruitment of employees from overseas to 21 days from 14 days previously. This new rule is effective immediately. According to the new rule, following the submission of a new work permit application, it will be put on hold for 21 days or less if alternative candidates have been identified amongst the existing pool of job seekers in Bahrain. If no alternative candidate has been found, the application process will resume for the preferred foreign national candidate.
The Ministry of Labor has issued a decision to nationalize new positions within the gas and optic sectors. Effective immediately, private sector companies must now employ Omani nationals for positions which include gas station manager and select professions in the optics sector, including the selling of glasses. It is not yet clear which professions within the optics sector will be targeted for Omanization. Further information is expected to be released by the authorities in the next coming weeks. Foreign nationals currently hired in one of the above-mentioned sectors may continue their employment until the expiration of their work permits.
The Ministry of Manpower and the Central Bank of Oman announced that starting February 28, 2021, all private sector companies will be required to disburse their employees’ salaries electronically through the Wages Protection System. The Wages Protection System is designed to control the payment of salaries to ensure their timely delivery according to the terms and conditions agreed between the parties in the employment contract. Employers should remain in contact with their respective banks for specific guidance and instructions. The Wages Protection System in Oman was initially planned to be introduced in 2017 but the final launch date was postponed.
The Royal Oman Police announced that nationals of 103 countries who are exempt from an entry visa requirement for tourism can now benefit from stays of up to 14 days in Oman, instead of the previous 10-day allowance. Other conditions of the program remain the same – eligible foreign nationals must have a confirmed hotel reservation, health insurance and a return or onward ticket if arriving by air.
The Ministry of Manpower issued a decision that expands the list of professions for which the recruitment of foreign nationals will soon be prohibited. The new law is expected to come into force in July and it affects a number of positions across the following sectors in Oman: financial and administrative professions in insurance companies and companies engaged in insurance brokerage activities; sales and accounting professions in entities operating in shopping malls; account auditing professions in car agencies; and all professions related to the sales of new and used vehicles as well as spare parts for new vehicles. Foreign nationals currently working in any of the affected professions can maintain their employment until their work permit expires. Employers seeking to hire new workers in the affected positions must ensure that they recruit Omani nationals.
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