United Arab Emirates – Covid-19 – Immigration update

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Update: September 02nd, 2020

Tests from overseas labs accepted

What is the change?

The United Arab Emirates recently made it possible for inbound air travelers to obtain pre-flight COVID-19 PCR tests outside the UAE.

Key points:

  • All air travelers, including residents, citizens, foreign nationals and those transiting through the airport, are still required to be tested for COVID-19 within 96 hours of traveling to the UAE and present a negative PCR test result report to the airline they are flying with before boarding. Where the UAE has listed designated labs in the country of departure, the test must be taken there, otherwise for countries where there is no designated lab, the test must be taken at any lab approved by the local public health authority. Travelers may also be subject to a second COVID-19 PCR test and quarantine upon arrival at the discretion of the authorities.

Previously, the number of labs air travelers could use for obtaining their COVID-19 tests was limited. The UAE expanded the number of labs to make the testing process more convenient, but also expanded the list of countries where tests must be taken at one the identified clinics.

Expanding the number of labs inbound travelers can use to obtain their pre-flight COVID-19 tests should make their testing processes more convenient.

Update: June 26th, 2020

Dubai eases travel restrictions

What is the change?

Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management has implemented a procedure for residents wishing to return that differs from the federal policy of the Emirates.

Key points:

  • Dubai Immigration (GDRFA) will process entry requests for residents holding a Dubai-issued visa and will provide an “instant response.”
  • Following approval, the GDRFA issues resident re-entry applicants an Application Number to book a flight to return to Dubai through the Emirates Airline website. As of yet, other airlines have not resumed regular flights to Dubai.
  • Dubai residents returning to the emirate from abroad must also follow strict arrival procedures, including testing, self- or designated-hotel quarantine until the test results are issued (and, if positive, 14-day quarantine), the use of a smartphone tracking app (the COVID-19 DXB), and adherence to the latest protocols in place at the time of arrival. In addition, every passenger entering Dubai must present a complete health declaration form and quarantine undertaking form. Employers who are responsible for an employee’s accommodation that is not suitable for quarantine may be required to arrange alternative suitable accommodation.
  • Dubai residents may now travel to other countries from Dubai. Before departing or returning, they must complete a health declaration form confirming that they have no COVID-19 symptoms.

The federal government has announced that it will begin allowing tourist travel to the UAE effective July 7.

Update: May 27, 2020

Foreign national residents to be permitted to return under certain conditions

What is the change?

Etihad Airways recently announced that it is providing special flights to help people stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • Special flights will be provided by Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to the following 14 destinations until May 31: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Melbourne, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto and Zurich.
  • Beginning May 9 and lasting until the end of May, repatriation flights will commence for UAE nationals and residents to Abu Dhabi from the following 12 locations: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Melbourne, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, and Toronto. Individuals must apply for ICA approval using the UAE Expat Resident Service before booking. Successful applicants can then follow the procedure here. There is also relevant flight information on the Etihad website.

The special flights in May will help people stranded by various national COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Update: May 18, 2020

Foreign national residents to be permitted to return under certain conditions

What is the change?

As of June 1, foreign national residents that are stranded outside of the UAE will be permitted to return provided they meet certain conditions.

Key Points:

  • Foreign nationals who wish to return to the UAE must have a valid residence visa, as well as family either currently residing or employed in the UAE.
  • Applications to obtain permission to return to the UAE, should be submitted through the Federal Identification and Citizenship “ICA” after June 1.
  • Applicants are advised to submit a letter of support explaining the reason for their return to the UAE (dependents who wish to return to the UAE to reunite with their family, must provide a letter with their signature stating their reason for returning. Employees who wish to return to the UAE to continue working require a letter from their employer with the employer’s signature, stating the reason for their return).
  • Essential workers such as medical staff and teachers, as well as pregnant women and children, will continue to be given priority.

Foreign national residents who were overseas when the country’s borders closed March 19 were instructed to apply for permission to return via the Twajudi assistance portal, a system previously restricted to UAE citizens only. This was subsequently replaced by a dedicated portal for foreign national residents of the UAE, which remains active and can be found here.

At this time the authorities have advised that those who initially applied for re-entry into the UAE and whose application was rejected, should reapply for permission to return after June 1.

Update: May 18th, 2020

Government offices reopening with reduced hours, staffing

What is the change?

The United Arab Emirates recently announced the reopening of some government service centers.

Key points:

  • Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) service centers have reopened. Hours of operation are from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Visitors are required to wear masks and gloves; no children or elderly people are allowed.

Though government offices are reopening to an extent, inbound flights to the UAE remain suspended with the exception of a number of special flights provided by Etihad Airways until May 31. Departures are also restricted and only available for limited outbound repatriation flights.

All visas, entry permits and Emirates IDs that expired on or after March 1 will retain their validity until January 2021. The same is true for expatriate residency visas, whether or not the expatriates are in the country. Visitors who have remained in the UAE and whose visas expired after March 1 will have them extended until January 2021.

The reopening of service centers will make some additional immigration services available, though services will be limited by shortened hours and reduced staffing. Delays should be expected.

Update: April 24th, 2020

Entry suspension for residence visa holders extended

What is the change?

As of April 2, the entry suspension for residence visa holders was extended until further notice.

Key Points:

  • Foreign nationals with valid UAE residence visas who are outside the country may not enter the UAE until further notice.
  • Holders of valid UAE visas who are abroad and wish to return to the UAE are requested to register with the twajudi residents service on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website in order to apply for permission to return to the UAE once possible.
  • Commercial passenger flights in and out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi were grounded on March 24, but three UAE airlines (Emirates, Etihad and Air Arabia) are operating limited outbound repatriation flights for those wishing to leave the UAE.
  • Dubai residents must apply online for a police permit in order to leave home.

The UAE suspended international flights and implemented entry suspension for residence visa holders last month in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Employers should anticipate significant disruptions to employee mobility and rearrange travel schedules for affected travelers accordingly.

COVID-19: Visa validity extended

What is the change?

The United Arab Emirates has extended the validity of all visas, entry permits and Emirates ID cards in an effort to ease compliance with immigration requirements in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Points:

  • Visas, residence permits and Emirates ID cards that expire on or after March 1 are automatically extended to Dec. 31.
  • The extension applies to UAE residents currently in the UAE, as well as those outside the country.
  • Overstay fines for tourists currently in the UAE on a temporary visas are also waived until Dec. 31.

The UAE continues to implement measures in response to COVID-19. Last month, the government suspended international flights and cancelled entry permits in order to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The visa validity extension is good news for employers, as it will ease compliance with immigration requirements for affected foreign national employees.

Update: March 26th, 2020

Closure of immigration offices

What is the change?

Effective 26 March 2020, the Dubai government temporarily closed all government departments, including those relating to visa processing and issuance. This includes the main immigration offices, and medical and Emirates ID centre. This has resulted in a suspension of medical and Emirates ID appointments and a suspension of the endorsement of UAE residence visas on passports for in-country visa applications. Similar measures are being implemented across the UAE’s other emirates.

The announcement was made without prior warning, and the government has said that it expect all government departments to implement a full remote work system from 29 March. Clarifications on how the authorities will handle visa processes are expected then.

Amer centres have also been instructed to close temporarily for two weeks until 9 April.

Visas/permits/applications affected

All types of visa applications

To curb the proliferation of COVID-19, the UAE has put into place a series of restrictive measures. These have often come without prior warning, and without alternative arrangements for how government departments can continue prepared.

For any residence visas approved, urgent visa stamping is discretionary and available at the immigration department at Dubai International Airport (DXB).

Until the immigration authorities issue clarifications, all visa processes should be deemed to be on hold. From next week, the authorities are expected to announce how it will continue to function.

It is expected that there will be an increased reliance on certain online systems that the UAE immigration authorities had been trialling in beta mode, but which had not been fully set up. There may also be a series of temporary measures, including approving visas in-principle, with medicals, biometrics and visa stamping to follow at a later date.

These changes may also expedite future changes that had been planned, including replacing the endorsement of residence visas with the Emirates ID.

Update: March 20th, 2020

Entry prohibited for UAE visa holders abroad, visa issuance, flights suspended

What is the change?

The government has implemented further travel restrictions and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Key Points:

  • As of March 19, holders of UAE visas, residence and work permits who are currently abroad are prohibited from entering the country, and this decision renewable every two weeks.
  • Issuance of work permits, tourist visas and visas on arrival are suspended until further notice.
  • Foreign nationals currently in the UAE and whose visa/permit application is in mid-process (i.e. initially approved) may see some delays in completing their medical exam and biometrics at this time.
  • UAE citizens are prohibited from traveling abroad, but along with GCC nationals are permitted to enter the UAE.
  • Flights to and from the following countries are suspended until further notice: Bahrain, China (except Beijing), Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey.

Although the entry ban is initially in force for two weeks, employers and foreign national employees should anticipate that it may be extended. Those affected by the entry ban should contact their employer in the UAE, as well as the relevant UAE diplomatic mission. Families of those affected by the entry ban are urged to contact the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship Operation@ica.gov.ae.

Employers should anticipate that the entry ban and suspension of visa/permit issuance will significantly disrupt business activity and employee mobility. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, and Deloitte will provide additional updates as information becomes available.

Update: March 19th, 2020

Entry suspended to UAE visa holders abroad

What is the change?

The United Arab Emirates has suspended entry to UAE visa holders who are not in the country in effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The restriction include those with valid UAE work/residence visas. This is effective from today and this decision in particular is renewable on a fortnightly basis.

The authorities have asked all those outside the UAE to get in touch with the respective consulates where they are currently located as below:

The entry restriction will last for two weeks and may be renewed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said:

  • Those who are in their home country should contact the UAE diplomatic mission to facilitate their return to the country.
  • Those who are outside of the UAE for business should contact their employers in the UAE and the UAE diplomatic mission in their host country to facilitate their return to the UAE.
  • Those who are on vacation should contact the UAE diplomatic mission in their host country to facilitate their return to the UAE.

The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) has urged family of people affected by the entry suspension to contact the ICA by phone or email at Operation@ica.gov.aein order to help their family member return to the UAE.

The new visa restriction could impact a large number of UAE visa holder not currently in the country. These individuals are encouraged to follow the steps above and to contact Deloitte to facilitate their return to the UAE when possible.

Update: March 17th, 2020

The UAE has suspended the issuance of new visas to foreign nationals

What is the change?

The UAE has suspended the issuance of new visas to foreign nationals with effect from 17 March 2020.

  • Effective date: 17 March 2020.
  • Visas/permits affected:
    • Out-of-Country Work and Residence Permit new applications
    • Mission Visa applications
    • Out-of-Country Dependent Residence Permit new applications
    • Visas on Arrival
    • Tourist Visas
    • Business Visas
  • Who is affected: The change applies to all foreign nationals except diplomatic passport holders and foreign nationals from the following countries, who are subject to additional health screening upon arrival:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy (from Rome only), Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Vatican, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Background

The Federal Authority for Identity And Citizenship (ICA) released a statement on 14 March, supplemented by further clarifications on 15 March, stating that this temporary suspension ‘comes as part of the precautionary measures taken by the UAE in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic’.

The Authority has stated that the suspension of new visas does not impact foreign nationals who have or will have their visas issued prior to the 17 March 2020.

Further, it is confirmed that this additional precautionary decision will be valid until a mechanism for a medical examination has been established in the countries of departure as part of other global measures taken to curb the proliferation of the COVID-19.

The UAE has also suspended inbound and outbound flights with the following four countries with effect from the 17 of March 2020 until further notice: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

Implications

Significant delays should be expected with the issuance of new visas/permits for new employees and dependents who are applying from outside the UAE and that are not on the exemption list. 

Currently, those who are still permitted to enter under the exemption list, and who are seeking to apply for a work and residence, or residence visa, may choose to proceed with an in-country application for as long as this option remains valid. 

In addition to nationality, the intended outbound country of travel into the UAE will need to be considered, and some may have to travel via a third country due to increasing restrictions on the origination country of flights.

In most cases, travel and start dates will need to be amended, and may need to be postponed depending on nationality. 

We are closely monitoring the situation and will keep you updated on any changes.

 

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