New UAE visa rules: Validity decreased for visas issued in free zones

The country has over 40 multidisciplinary free zones, and both expatriates and foreign investors are allowed to have full ownership of companies

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By Khaleej Times

The validity of freezone visas issued in the UAE has been reduced from three years to two, Khaleej Times can reveal. Typing centre agents and business setup consultants have confirmed the development.

The new validity period went into effect from October this year — when the new UAE visa reforms were rolled out.

While visas issued in the mainland have a validity of two years, those in the freezones used to have three. The UAE government has now standardised the validity of the work visas.

A customer care agent at the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Ports Security (ICP) confirmed that “as per new updates, the validity has been reduced from three to two years.”

Freezone authorities have sent circulars to clients, informing them about the change.

“Visas that have already been issued will remain valid for three years. All new ones will have a two-year validity,” a business consultant said.

The new rule is applicable to even visas that are under process.

“Even if you have recently applied for a new visa and reached the final stage of the e-sticker processing, and the EID (Emirates ID) application has been approved for three years – the visa will be processed and is applicable for two years only”, a freezone authority said in a mail sent to clients.

“The above is applicable for … new employment visa requests (inside/outside the country) and visa renewals.”

Another authority said the visa amount for the “third year” has been refunded back to business partners.

“For a lot of people, this means some level of financial adjustments, because visas will become a tad bit costlier,” said Abdul Gafoor, general manager of Al Mas Businessmen Service. “The visa duration for partners of mainland companies has also been cut down to two years. It is not a major change – but the increased cost is something that companies will have to factor in for their future plans.”

The UAE has more than 40 multidisciplinary free zones in the country, and they allow expatriates and foreign investors to have full ownership of companies. Governed by a special set of rules and regulations, these zones offer much more flexibility to residents as well as lower prices, making them extremely popular.

Sharon Fernandes, who has a license for her marketing firm from RAK free zone, said she prefers it to a mainland license. “[The] free zone makes it easy to do business in terms of government services and sponsorships, and there is no need [for] office space as well in some cases,” she said. “It is also much cheaper than mainland licenses. That is why I decided to set up in [a] free zone.”

With the change in visa rules, Sharon is rethinking her visa situation. “I am on my husband’s visa and I was considering switching to a free zone visa next year,” she said. “However, now I will go back to the drawing board and work out the cost factors.

Having said that, I will definitely take a freezone visa for my staff in accordance to the law here. The cost might be a little high but there is no place like the UAE for ease of doing business.”

The new Advanced Visa System came into effect on October 3 with the UAE’s largest ever visa, along with entry reforms that saw the introduction of a Green Visa for skilled workers, freelancers, and investors.

The self-sponsored five-year residency scheme offers multiple benefits. It is intended to attract and retain the best talent in the UAE.

There have also been a number of changes in visit visa permits. New visas will allow a stay of 60 days as opposed to 30 days earlier. Additionally, a five-year multi-entry tourist visa has been introduced, which does not require a sponsor. This will allow tourists who have a bank balance of $4,000 to stay for 90 consecutive days in the UAE.

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