UAE's new labour card rules a sign of a maturing market

Work permits for men who are sponsored by their wives mean more equality and easier short-term contract work

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 6, 2018.  Dubai Metro Anniversary.-  Commuters at the Noor Bank Metro Station.
Victor Besa/ The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Nawal Irhami
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New employment rules allowing men to work while being sponsored by their wives are a sign of a maturing and more equal labour market, industry figures said.

The move set out by the labour ministry on Saturday will make it easier for a husband to find employment and take short-term contracts.

Sons sponsored by their parents will also benefit by being allowed to secure part or full-time work.

The change in the UAE's working regulations will allow companies to hire men without paying for their visas and medical insurance.

Instead, they can buy a work permit, often called a labour card, which costs from Dh300.

Until now, only women who could be sponsored by their husbands or fathers were eligible for labour cards.

"In fast-paced roles where there is an immediate need to get people to be work-ready, this is a very good solution for companies," said Ali Haider, a manager in the Dubai office of Fragomen, an immigration company.

“It cuts down the lead time to get people on board for individuals already in the country. That is an immediate benefit we will notice.

In fast-paced roles where there is an immediate need to get people to be work ready, this is a very good solution for companies. That is an immediate benefit we will notice

“The recent announcement is the latest in truly transformative policies in the UAE.”

Other recent changes allow parents to sponsor their sons for up to two consecutive years once they reach the age of 18.

Foreign workers are able to sponsor their relatives based solely on their income. They need a minimum of Dh4,000 a month.

Before, they required a "managerial" title, without which many were restricted from bringing their families over.

“Simply put, the more visa and permit facilities you have, the more businesses are attracted to set up shop in this part of the world,” Mr Haider said.

The long-standing UAE trend of employees being closely tied to one employer who provides their salary, medical care and even housing is also changing, he said.

Tech companies and start-ups want professionals for short-term projects without having to provide such services.

“Historically, residency and work authorisation has been tied very closely to the concept of corporate sponsorship,” Mr Haider said.

“But the trend now is that the borders are being opened to innovators and entrepreneurs, people who are not traditional employees.”

Working on a partner’s or parent’s visa also gives residents security. When a job does not work out, residents usually have to leave the UAE after 30 days.

Marie-Claire Accordino of The Accounts Dept. She runs a business that works with small and medium enterprises. Marie-Claire who runs her own business speaks about how this is in the right direction and will help families stay together.

Photo by: Reem Mohammed/ The National

Marie-Claire Accordino is a chartered accountant who runs the Accounts Dept, which provides book-keeping for small companies.

Ms Accordino said the decision was an important move for equality.

"This is definitely a move in the right direction," she said. "There have been many cases where a woman has been offered a job and her husband wished to come out here but couldn't because he did not have a job.

"It is great if the woman can sponsor her husband who is then allowed to look for a job. That is a far better scenario than breaking up the family.”

Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser and columnist for The National, said relaxing job market regulations makes "life easier for expats and encourages people to move here and to stay".

“It seems only right that men and women should have equality in these matters and the UAE is the first GCC country to take this step,” Ms Bobker said.

"There are more women main earners than many people realise and it is not uncommon at all. In the UK and US, women are the main earners in at least one third of couples.

“The UAE hasn’t seen quite the same parity but from my own clients I know there are many women who are the main or sole earners, or at least earning the same as men, and there quite a few stay-at-home dads.

"Many women who are mainly at home as they have young children have been able to take on part-time or flexible jobs, as employers only have to provide a work permit rather than a full visa.

This will mean these opportunities are also open to men.

“We have recently seen a reduction in costs to employers and this is another way that employers can take on staff with lower overheads," Ms Bobker said.

"We still need to see all the details but overall it is a positive move.”

Teacher Bindhu Veyccal, from the Millennium School, Dubai, said the rule would change attitudes because women could support their husbands and sons when they finished studying.

“It makes a huge difference for women. It will be self-empowering because in the past many women depended on their husbands to work overseas,” Ms Veyccal said.

"It was male expatriates who came to work in the UAE and the family followed.

"This stereotype will be eradicated. Now women can come here first and their husbands can follow.

“It will give women more respect and dignity in society because now their job is also important.”