UAE: Expat Husbands Get New Work Opportunities

By Katie Nadworny February 7, 2020
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Dubai skyline

​A new United Arab Emirates (UAE) policy extends to expat husbands work-permit options that have long been available to expat wives. "It has only been possible for a wife, who is sponsored by her husband for residency visa purposes, to obtain a work permit," said Ruth Stephen, an attorney with Pinsent Masons in Dubai, UAE. "The other way around has never been possible until now."

In July 2019, the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation expanded the possibilities for dependents to receive work permits in the UAE.

In order to work in the UAE, an individual must have two documents: a residency visa, which allows the person to live in the country, and a work-permit labor card, which gives the individual the right to work.

If a man has a job in Dubai and comes from abroad to work, his employer sponsors his residency and work permits. His wife's residency is sponsored by her husband.

"The wife is what you would call a sponsored dependent, so she's not sponsored by her husband's employer. She's sponsored by her husband," Stephen said. "But separately, if the wife is going to get a job in the UAE, she also needs the work permit, because up until that point she's only got the right to reside, not the right to work."

Sponsored female dependents are free to seek out work permits, and the employer pays only for the labor card, not the residency. Until recently, however, male dependents were not allowed to seek out work permits when living in the UAE under their wife's sponsorship.

"In the past, if you're a husband whose visa is under the sponsorship of the wife and you would like to work, you would need to cancel your visa from your wife and get an employment visa under the sponsorship of the company," said Florabel Bautista, department head of immigration services at Sesam Immigration, which has offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Benefits to Workers and UAE

The relaxation of the visa rules makes it easier for married female professionals to relocate to the UAE for work. If the wife is the main breadwinner, her husband is now also able to seek a work permit and employment, bringing another salary into their household.

This doesn't just benefit the workers and their families, but also the UAE. "It may encourage expat professional females to come into the region because they can take their husbands, which maybe before they wouldn't want to do," Stephen said.

This, in turn, means that female professionals and their families might be inclined to stay in the UAE longer, committing their skills to the country.

Businesses Profit from Change

The development "means that employers have a wider pool of candidates, because these husbands who weren't … able to get a work permit can now," Stephen pointed out. 

Bautista said, "Companies can apply for a work permit [for the husband], and that work permit is applied through the Ministry of Labor, valid for three years, and issued to the employee or the husband, who can work for the company."

Once all the necessary documents are submitted, the work permit can be acquired quickly. "It will be processed usually in 24 to 48 hours," Bautista added. "It's an electronic version."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

Women Recognized as Primary Breadwinners

The new policy recognizes that women can be the primary professional in a household with a husband who encourages his wife's career ambitions.

"For the UAE economy, it will arguably make it more competitive and strengthen the UAE position globally because it will attract more and more professionals to the region," Stephen said. "It's very encouraging and a positive new mandate, not just in terms of gender balance and promoting females in the workplace generally, but it's forward-thinking and a really good step for the UAE as a whole."

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul.

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