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I. Introduction

According to the National Bureau of Statistics of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the estimated population of the country as of mid-2010 was 8,264,070, of which 7,316,073 (more than 80%) were foreigners.[1]   The admission and stay of foreigners in the country, including migrant workers, are regulated by federal rather than local law.[2]

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II.  Definition of Foreigner

The 1973 immigration law states that anyone who does not hold the citizenship of the United Arab Emirates is a foreigner.[3]  No foreigner is allowed to enter the country unless he or she has a valid passport or equivalent travel document and a visa, a permission to enter, or a valid residency permit.[4]

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III.  Residency Permits Generally

The General Directorate of Citizenship and Stay is the competent authority entrusted by law to issue residency permits for a period not to exceed three years.  Such permits may be renewed prior to their expiration date.[5] 

A foreigner who enters the country as a visitor shall not be granted a residency permit except for a bona fide reason[6] and shall leave upon the cancellation of his permit or the expiry of its term.[7]

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IV.  Residency Permits for Migrant Workers

A worker is defined as any person, male or female, who works in exchange for remuneration under the authority and supervision of an employer, no matter what the nature of the work is.[8] 

An employer who wishes to employ foreign workers must submit a request in this regard on the form designed by the Ministry of Labor in which he commits to

  1. sponsor and be responsible for the worker to be engaged;
  2. prepare and execute the employment contract and take whatever other necessary actions that may be required of him within one week at most from the time the worker arrives; and
  3. repatriate the worker, when necessary, to the place where he came from.[9]

The Ministry of Labor refers the requests it approves to the General Directorate of Citizenship and Stay or other authorities pursuant to the instructions issued by the Ministry of Interior.[10]  In order for requests to be approved, the foreign candidate must have reached the age of seventeen years.  The Ministry of Labor can only approve the application if there is no citizen available to do the work.[11]

Other requirements may be imposed on foreigners seeking residency in the UAE, such as a requirement to undergo a medical examination.[12]

The General Directorate of Citizenship and Stay may issue non-work residency permits to foreigners for the purpose of joining the head of their family or their bona fide guardian.[13]

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V.  Permanent Residency and Citizenship

Residency permits granted to migrant workers are for a limited period of time and cannot lead, regardless of the length of residency, to citizenship or permanent residency.

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Prepared by Issam M. Saliba
Foreign Law Specialist
February 2013

[1] United Arab Emirates National Bureau of Statistics , Population Estimates 2006–2010,

[3] Id. art. 1.

[4] Id. art. 2.

[5] Id. art. 17, as amended.

[6] Id. art. 18.

[7] Id. art. 19.

[8] Decision of the Council of Ministers No. 3 of 1977 Regarding the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Workers, art. 1, available at
the website of the Courts of Dubai pageid=292,455214&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&_piref292_457219_292_455214_455214.
called_from=1&_piref292_457219_292_455214_455214.law_key=395 (in Arabic).

[9] Id. art. 7.

[10] Id. art. 10.

[11] 4.

[12] See Nick Lewandowski, New Health Exam Requirements for Expats in the UAE, (May 5, 2011)

[13] Implementation Regulations of Law No. 6 of 1973, art. 28, art. 57,  available at the website of the Courts of Dubai (in Arabic).

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020