Government offices across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia will be working reduced hours during the month of Ramadan, which may affect processing times for all immigration applications. Foreign nationals and employers should expect processing delays which can continue in the weeks following Ramadan. This year, the month of Ramadan is expected to last from April 12 or 13 until May 12, 2021; however, the exact dates depend on a lunar sighting and are expected to be announced for each country separately.
United Arab Emirates
The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) introduced a new Remote Working Visa and a five-year multiple entry visa for tourism. The new Remote Working Visa is expected to allow eligible foreign nationals to live and work remotely from anywhere in the UAE, while remaining employed by the existing home-country employer. The visa will be valid for one year and will not trigger a local sponsorship requirement. It is anticipated that foreign nationals will be eligible to sponsor residence permits for their dependent family members under the visa. Further details related to the visa terms and eligibility conditions are expected to be announced within the next few weeks. The new visa scheme will supplement the existing Remote Working Visa scheme launched in Dubai in October 2020.
Foreign nationals travelling to the UAE for tourism will also be able to benefit from a multiple-entry visit visa with a validity of five years. According to the announcement, the visa will not require a local sponsorship and will be accessible to all nationalities. Visa holders will be able to stay in the UAE for up to 90 days with the possibility of a one-time in-country extension for an additional 90 days. It is not clear if any activities other than tourism will be permitted under this new visa category. Further details are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, launched the ‘Professional Verification’ initiative that aims to regulate the labor market in Saudi Arabia’s private sector by evaluating the skills of foreign nationals employed in the Kingdom. The program is also addressed to foreign nationals seeking new work visa for Saudi Arabia, thus aiming to reduce the entry of unskilled workers to the country.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) published additional details related to the implementation of the Labor Reform Initiative Program. These details affect the employment sponsorship transfer process and the issuance of Exit Re-Entry and Final Exit visas in Saudi Arabia for all individuals in the private sector, except domestic workers. The new regulations are in effect from March 14, 2021. The implementation of the Labor Reform Initiative is expected to increase transparency in Saudi Arabia’s employment and immigration environments and will allow for a greater mobility of workers within the Kingdom. It is the continuation of other reforms that the Saudi government has implemented over the past years to attract skilled talent by making the local labour market more structured and more competitive.
The Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs Authority has increased the minimum salary requirement for the sponsorship of dependent residence permits in Bahrain. Effective immediately, foreign nationals must meet the following salary requirements when seeking to sponsor visas for their spouse, children or parents must either earn a minimum BHD 1,000 per month, if the dependents are 24 years or older; or earn a minimum BHD 400 per month, if the dependents are younger than 24. Additionally, all residence visa applicants must have a valid medical insurance for Bahrain. Previously, foreign nationals had to provide proof of a monthly income not less than BHD 250 in order to sponsor a residence permit for their dependents in Bahrain.
The Labor Market Regulatory Authority announced the implementation of the Wage Protection System in the private sector in Bahrain. The program requires that employers in the private sector must pay the salaries for all their employees through any of the approved financial agencies in Bahrain. This is to ensure that workers’ salaries are paid on time and according to the terms and conditions agreed in the employment contract. Employers should remain in contact with their respective banks for specific guidance and instructions. The Wage Protection System in Bahrain will be introduced in three phases depending on the size of the employer. Phase one includes companies with 500 employees and above and will start by May 1st, 2021. Phase two includes companies with 50 to 499 employees and will start by September 1st, 2021. Phase three includes companies with 1 to 49 employees and will start by January 1st, 2022. It is expected that no penalties will be imposed on employers who fail to meet their obligation due to technical issues, within six months from the implementation date.
The Ministry of Interior of Iraq has reinstated the process whereby employers in the oil and gas sector must process employment visa invitation letters (LOI) for their workers through the respective concession-holding company (also referred to as FOD) and the Ministry of Oil. The new rule is expected to go into effect March 10, 2021. Upon receiving approvals from these two agencies, the file will be sent to the Ministry of Interior which will issue the LOI. Depending on the nationality, the LOI enables the foreign national to obtain an entry visa upon arrival in Iraq or through an Iraqi consular post abroad. Since November 2019, all visa invitation letter requests must have been processed directly with the Ministry of Interior and with a limited involvement of other government agencies or FODs.
Effective immediately, citizens of the following countries can obtain a visa-on-arrival for stays of up to 60 days in Iraq: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. It is expected that foreign nationals in a visa-on-arrival status can conduct certain business activities, such as attending meetings and exploring investment opportunities, although no list of permissible or prohibited activities has been issued yet. Individuals must pay a fee of USD 52 at a visa counter prior to approaching passport control officers upon arrival. The visa is for a single-entry and cannot be converted into a residence permit. It is not clear if visa-on-arrival holders can obtain a security pass to access oil and gas fields and similar restricted sites. Previously, visitors had to obtain a pre-arranged visa through the Iraqi consular post, based on an invitation letter from an entity in Iraq.
The Ministry of Interior introduced a new visa process for foreign nationals seeking employment in Pakistan. As a result, eligible foreign nationals are no longer required to obtain their visa through a Pakistani consular post abroad. Effective immediately, employer must first file a work visa application through the online visa system and submit supporting documents at the Board of Investment office in Pakistan. Once approved, an electronic entry visa for work will be issued which will allow foreign national to travel to Pakistan. The visa is for a single-entry for stays of up to 90 days and it must be used within 30 days from the date of issuance. Foreign nationals seeking long-term employment and residence in Pakistan must, post arrival in Pakistan, extend and convert their entry visa into a multiple-entry visa for work valid for one or two years. It is recommended that this process is done no later than 30 days prior to expiry date of the entry visa; it requires that the applicant remains in Pakistan until the process is complete. Those who wish to exit prior to expiry date of their 90-day entry visa, will have to submit a new application from outside the country to be able to return to Pakistan.
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