Understanding and Avoiding Immigration and Labour Bans in the UAE
In the United Arab Emirates, two significant categories of visa bans exist a labor ban and an immigration ban. Although these injunctions have been employed by the Ministry of Labour (and now Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation) for decades, many employees and employers find the issuance and implementation of visa ban nebulous and arbitrary.
What is a Labour Ban?
According to the UAE Government, a labor ban “means that the employee is not legally allowed to work in another company in the UAE for a period of one year. This restriction is imposed on an individual when they have either failed to adhere to UAE Labour Law provisions or have breached their terms and conditions agreement with their employer. The labor ban applies to all members of the employed demographic. Labor ban eligibility extends beyond individuals registered with an employment residence visa to include holders of labor permits, labor contracts, or labor cards. An issued labor ban can be effective for one-year or indefinitely. After the designated time-frame, the bar will be automatically dismissed, and individuals are eligible for rehire.
Labor bans can be assigned by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE), the Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs, or the Ministry of Interior. The offense committed by the employee will determine which entity handles the labor ban. Typically, violations of security or criminal law are delegated to the Ministry of Interior. The MoHRE manages issues of employment; individuals reasonably suspected of breaching employment conditions or the UAE Labour Law are investigated by the MoHRE. This consideration includes weighing testimonials from both the suspect as well as the suspect’s employer.
Upon conclusion of their investigation, the MoHRE has jurisdiction to issue a labor ban if:
- An employee “terminated the employment contract or did not observe the provisions of the UAE Labour Law.
- Article 120 of the UAE Labour Law was neglected.
- The employee retained multiple jobs without MoHRE approval.
- Following employment termination, the individual remained in the UAE (without legal authorization) for a period greater than two months.
- The individual (non-skilled laborer) terminated their contract prior to six months from the start date.
Should a UAE visa holder receive a labor ban, that individual’s work permit will cease? After the work permit is terminated, it is left to the employer to file a withdrawal of the individual’s residency visa. If the employee served a labor ban is “on the sponsorship of his parents/family he may maintain his residency visa but cannot work or be issued another work permit for the duration of the ban.”
Requesting an Appeal of a Labour Ban
Issued labor bans can be challenged through the MoHRE. Should an individual disagree with the grounds of issuance, objections can be received by a Tas’heel center. All requests of appeal are decided by a committee “chaired by the undersecretary and certain directors of departments to study these requests and decide whether to lift or maintain the ban. The UAE government stresses that monetary settlement offers will not waive a labor ban.
Legislation Legitimizing UAE Labour Bans
Article 120 of UAE Federal Labour Law No. 8 of 1980 (as amended) is the most frequently cited legislative text supporting the implementation of labor bans. If an employee commits any of the actions listed in Article 120, that individual can be automatically discharged and susceptible to the issuance of a labor ban. Dismissible conduct includes:
- Falsifying their identity or forging certificates.
- Executing a mistake which causes “substantial material loss” for the company. For this to be a terminable offense, the employer must notify the Ministry of Labour within a 48-hour period of becoming aware of the loss.
- Defying accessible (written and posted) safety in the workplace standards.
- Failing to accomplish contractually outlined duties. One is only dismissible under this condition if disciplinary warnings have been previously issued to the worker.
- Revealing confidential information about the employer.
- Committing and being judicially charged with an “offense involving honor, honesty or public morals.”
- Drinking or under the influence of drugs or alcohol while in the workplace.
- Assaulting another employee.
- Missing “more than 20 non-consecutive days, or more than seven consecutive days, in any one year” (without compelling reasoning).
Beyond Article 120 of the UAE Labour Law, the Ministerial Resolution No. 721 for 2006, Ministerial Resolution No. 724 for 2006, Ministerial Resolutions No. 707 for 2006, and Resolution No. 765 for 2015 govern the UAE labor ban. The most recent of the four resolutions, Minister of Labour’s decree (765) of 2015 on Rules and Conditions for the Termination of Employment Regulations declares:
- Article 1: An employee’s (fixed-term) contract may be terminated if the contract is not renewed, both an employee and employer reach a mutual consensus that termination should occur, legal provisions are taken to end the original or renewed contract unilaterally, unilateral action is taken (without legal compliance) to end the contract knowing the “terminating party bears any legal consequences of early termination,” or provisions under Article 120 of the Federal Labour Law are breached. Article 1(1) describes appropriate legal steps as party notification of termination intent, the continual upholding of an active contract during “duration of the notice period,” and compensation not to “exceed the equivalent of three months of gross wages….”
In the case of unlimited contracts, a contract may be terminated if the parties consent, notification of termination is matched with “continuing to honor contractual obligations,” in cases of non-legal compliance, when the terminating party assumes legal penalties for early termination, or when Article 120 of the Federal Labour Law is violated.
- Article 2: Principally, an employment relationship is dissolved if one of three instances transpire. First, termination will occur if an employer fails to satisfy their contractual obligations to the employee. The second condition results from failure “to secure the employment of the worker” as a result of business closure. In instances such as the latter, for termination to remain de facto, the worker must have submitted a court claim against the employer. Finally, discontinuation of an employment relationship can occur if “a labor complaint is referred to the court by the Ministry and a final ruling is obtained in favor of the worker” which includes worker privileges.
Before UAE Cabinet Resolution No. 25 of 2010, employers were capable of restricting the ability of their employees to start new positions at other companies for a timeframe of six months. Employers were able to do this by obstructing the creation of new Ministry of Labour visa applications. With the passing of Cabinet Resolution No. 25 of 2010, bans are abolished for workers who have been employed for at least two years. Following this positive development, in 2015 the Ministry of Emiratization and Human Resources enacted three decrees further broadening the previously restrictive scope of employment bans. These decrees provided advantages for individuals employed for more than six months and those holding educational certificates. Currently, due to the legislative reformations, labor bans are generally non-applicable to the free zone hiring process.
Assessing Labour Ban Risk of Issuance
As one may note from the legislation above, understanding whether or not an individual circumstance permits an employer to apply for a labor ban is at best, complicated. In order to access whether or not an employee is at risk of a ban, three elements must be considered: 1) does the worker possess an educational certificate, 2) is the contract limited or unlimited, and 3) is the contract still within its first six months of activity? If these three questions can be answered, the jeopardy of ban issuance can be assessed. Below is a tool to aid in appraising the possibility of obtaining a labor ban.
- Risk of labor ban issuance is present if:
- Termination occurs without reason
- Termination ensues before completion of a limited-term contract
- The employer does not provide the agreement to the resignation
- The employee breaches the Labour Law or the contract
- No risk of labor ban issuance is present for:
- UAE nationals
- Expatriate employees transferring into a governmental role
- Expatriate employees shifting jobs within a free zone
- Expatriate employees who have resigned in legal accordance and have finished their fixed-term contract
- Expatriates who have an unlimited contract and have been employed for more than three years
- If an employee has or does not have an educational certificate, an unlimited-term contract, and has been employed beyond six months.
- Expatriates providing a No Objections Certificate from their current employer and who have been working under an unlimited contract for at least a year
Advice for Lifting a Six Month Labour Ban
Let’s say you have been issued a six-month labor ban in Dubai for terminating your contract before its expiration date (two years fixed-term). Under this circumstance, if you have an education certificate and have been appointed a sufficient salary by your new employer, the Ministry of Labour may dismiss the ban. For the ban to be lifted, a minimum wage of AED 5,000 should be offered to high school graduates and AED 12,000 for individuals carrying a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, if you can receive a No Objection Certificate from your current employer or gain employment in a free zone, the ban will likely be repealed.
What is an Immigration Ban?
Unlike the labor ban, an immigration ban is ordered by the Immigration and Naturalization Department (Ministry of Interior). While as of 2016, labor bans are not applicable within free zones, immigration bans do not possess such exceptions. Immigration bans are activated through employer submittal of a claim that a worker has severely harmed the employer or has committed a criminal offense. Actionable offenses include common defilements such as driving under the influence and substantial debt, severe crimes like rape and murder, and immigration violations. If an individual is issued an immigration ban, they are required to vacate the UAE. Similar to the labor ban, an immigration ban typically is accompanied by a designated term. While it is possible for an individual to be barred from reentry into the UAE for life, generally immigration bans are allocated for a span of six months to a year. Unless considered an exceptional circumstance, once issued an immigration ban, the order is irreversible. If an immigration ban is issued in the UAE, the offender is also prohibited from the entry of any of the GCC countries.
Advice for Lifting an Immigration Ban
The vast majority of immigration bans are irrevocable. In cases where bans have been issued for offenses such as drug trafficking, bounced checks, or attempted murder, immigration bans are issued on guilt, and therefore will not be lifted. However, UAE immigration lawyers have seen instances where immigration bans have been imposed on the wrong individual through mistaken identity. If you believe an immigration ban has been incorrectly issued to your name, an immigration lawyer may be able to resolve the oversight by providing the immigration department with relevant supportive documents (such as a certified copy of your passport or proof of no liability).
How do I know if a ban has been issued to me?
If you suspect you have either been issued a labor or immigration ban but are not certain, the Ministry of Labour or Immigration Department respectively will be able to verify.