UAE new visa rules: influx of jobseekers and more freelance roles predicted

More companies will look to hand out project work, while competition for jobs will grow, recruiters say

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New visa rules are predicted to create a flood of jobseekers in the UAE market in the next year.

The changes, which came into effect on Monday, will lead more businesses to offer freelance work, project-based employment and part time roles, recruiters said.

Talib Hashim, managing director of TBH advisory, a Dubai-based talent and business advisory firm, predicted high competition for jobs in a market where candidates far outnumber available roles.

This should lead to a boom for recruitment and also bring more competition in the job markets. Local talent will have to compete with international talent
Talib Hashim, TBH advisory

“These changes have been in discussion for years and will add more flexibility and mobility of expat talent,” he said on ARN's Business Breakfast radio show.

“In order to have a more knowledge based economy there needed to be a mechanism to attract the skilled worker, this move was overdue and the pandemic accelerated the need for this to happen.

“This should lead to a boom for recruitment and also bring more competition in the jobs markets, as local talent will have to compete with international talent tapping into the job market here."

Under the old system, the vast majority of expats worked for a single company who sponsored their residency visa and provided their medical insurance.

While that will continue, more companies are expected to offer freelance and project based work to keep costs such as medical insurance and school fee subsidies down.

Earlier this year, research by jobs portal found that 87 per cent of freelancers said there was an increase in their services since the start of the pandemic, while 70 per cent of firms in the Middle East region planned to hire more on a project-by-project basis.

Freelance visa costs

As the changes attract more talent from overseas to apply for jobs in the UAE, competition is expected to increase among those already living here.

Affordable freelance visas and no requirements for office space, which was once a requirement, have made the self-employed option a cheaper and easier process for flexible working.

A one-year freelance permit costs Dh7,500, with additional costs of Dh2,000 for an establishment card.

A freelance employment visa in Dubai, valid for three years, costs from Dh4,960, bringing the total fees to around Dh14,460, which includes a medical, visa stamping and Emirates ID.

While set-up costs are low, freelancers are unable to sponsor employees and are restricted to one of Dubai’s 35 registered free zones.

In addition, five and 10-year residency schemes aim to attract more skilled professionals and those with medicine and science backgrounds, and highly sought after skills.

Meanwhile, wealthy investors, entrepreneurs and company owners are also being sought in the hope they will set down roots, invest in property and make the country their long-term home.

Tough job market

"One of the biggest concerns among young people is what they do after university due to the lack of options, this will allow them time and flexibility to find the right career for them,” said Mr Hashim.

“The Emirati community is concerned as the job market has taken a hit in recent years.

“Increased competition means the Emirati community will not just have to compete with the local talent already here, but an influx of new international talent.

“Because of that we are seeing a different conversation between policy makers and community," he said.

“Initiatives are being rolled out to enable Emiratis in the job market, but this will constitute a challenge for Emiratis and long term residents.

“They must look at how they can differentiate their skills against the competition from overseas.

“We need to look at showing the need for local knowledge among employers.

“There needs to be an understanding of local culture and networks and the locals are the best people to tap into that, so there is a great opportunity here.”

Project-based work and freelance work

Green visas aimed at skilled workers, freelancers and the self-employed will also grant a five-year residency, as long as certain criteria is fulfilled.

Applicants require a monthly salary of Dh15,000 and a bachelor's degree in certain skilled fields, including science, law, education, culture or social sciences, among others.

This option is also appealing to those with a two- or three-year trade licence to work in a freelance capacity, but new applicants must be aware of potential pitfalls.

Rebecca Kelly, litigation and regulatory partner with Morgan Lewis & Bockius, told the same ARN show that new rules allowing residents to sponsor themselves and their family changes the employment market significantly.

Visa regulators have been in place since 1973 without any significant changes, so these are long overdue,” she said.

“The changes reflect the trend towards more hybrid and remote working, but also has allowed companies to consider alternative work patterns for people.

“We have part time working available now and these changes reflect that.

“You still have an obligation to meet certain criteria, such as being able to afford a certain lifestyle and earn a minimum wage through your company.

“The fundamental issue is that any rights with a previous employer would then be taken up by yourself as self-employed.

“This can be acting around repatriation costs, medical insurance and taking holidays.

“You no longer have an employer to keep records to ensure those things have been met.”

Updated: October 04, 2022, 7:15 AM