Tim Elliot: Hello and welcome to another edition of Lawgical, the weekly series from the Dubai-based law firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, still, still the Gulf Region’s first and still the only legal podcast. I’m Tim Elliot. I’m here with the firm’s Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova, 18 floors up in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Ludmila, always good to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Hello Tim and great to see you, as always.
Tim Elliot: Now this time on Lawgical we’re talking about visas. The U.A.E. is a pretty welcoming place, but what if you overstay your welcome, your visa, whether you’re a tourist or a if you’re an expatriate resident? Now, Ludmilla, the U.A.E. offers visa on arrival for an increasingly expanding list of nations. Plenty of nationalities can now just turn up and get a stamped visa at the airport as they arrive. Now, we’ll come to expat residents in a few minutes, but let’s start with tourists. What happens if you’re having such a great time here in the sun that you overstay your visa? It’s a situation where pretty simply, you’re fined, aren’t you?
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed. Unlike popular belief that somehow if you overstay your visa that will lead to some sort of imprisonment, and we have heard a lot of concerns like that, that is not the case. In fact, it really is, as you said, just a matter of a fine. Now the fines can be quite high and depending on the number of days of overstaying, the amount can be quite significant at the end. With regard to tourist visas, there are different types of overstaying fines. As you said, an increasing number of countries can enter the U.A.E. on a visa on arrival for the most part on arrival, and those visas on arrival are 30 days. There used to be a time when depending on the nationality the visa upon arrival, for example, was either 90 days or 60 days, but now more or less the rule is uniform for all nationalities, and that is 30 days.
Then the 30 days also has a grace period of 10 days. If you leave at 35 days, you will not be fined anything extra. But anything after that, the overstaying fines are as follows: For the first day of overstaying it’s 200 dirhams which is about $60 dollars per day. Then after that, it’s 100 dirhams for each consecutive day, plus there is 100 dirhams of a service fee or a processing fee, if you will. Imagine if you stayed here for 50 days, it can be a fairly significant amount at the end when you do exit. Just so everyone understands, if you are exiting, let’s say through the airport, and you have overstaying fines, you will not be allowed to leave the country until you’ve settled that amount. You can settle the amount at the airport, so it’s not that you need to go back and pay at a specific immigration center. You can pay at the airport, but you will not be able to leave the airport until you’ve paid those fees, so just be prepared. Those are the fees when you overstay the visa.
That being said, there is a way of extending the 30-day visa and for all nationalities, for all visas on arrival, there is a way to extend the visa for an additional 30 days twice. Therefore, ultimately you can stay here for up to 90 days. There are fees to pay for extending the visa but it’s extremely important to understand that you must apply for extension of the visa prior to its expiration. Let’s say you have a first 30-day visa on arrival and now on day 35 you want to go and avail yourself of the benefit of extending it for additional 30 days, at that point it is too late. In order for you to apply for that additional 30-day extension, you need to do it before the expiration of the first 30 days.
If you are still within your 30-day period and now you want to extend the visa, then to do so will cost 600 dirhams for the extension, so for an additional 30 days you get the 600-dirham fee for that, and then after that you can extend for an additional 30 days for another 600 dirhams. All in all, you get 60 extra days for 1,200 dirhams. That’s for overstaying and extending tourist visas.
Slightly different rules apply for residence visas or for visas of those who currently hold U.A.E. residency and are now either switching jobs or their visas have expired.
Tim Elliot: Let’s talk about the longer-term visitors, people like you and I, expatriate U.A.E. residents who are allowed to live here. The visa is stamped for two or perhaps three years in the passport. In most cases, residence visas are contingent on your employment in the Emirates or being sponsored by a spouse. For example, my first expat visa, if you like, is what happens to a residency visa once your employment is terminated?
Ludmila Yamalova: That’s a great question, and there is much confusion that surrounds that particular scenario. There is a belief amongst many who have just, for example, received that notice of termination or whose jobs for one reason or another have come to an end, be it by termination or resignation, they believe that the termination amounts as some sort of an automatic termination of their visa as well. But employment and immigration are two separate legal concepts, and therefore, even though residency visas are linked to employment for the most part, from the procedural standpoint, they fall under different laws and different governmental authorities.
Just because your employment has come to an end does not mean your visa comes to an end at that point in time. This is for a number of reasons. If your employment comes to an end, most of the time there is a notice period, and it can be anywhere from one month to six months. Perhaps less likely is six months these days, but certainly three months is still quite common. Even though you are no longer working, but you are still here, you are, technically speaking, still under an employment visa because your employment relationship has not ended until the notice period has come to an end. Therefore, even though you’re not going into the office, your employment relationship is still ongoing for let’s say the term of the notice period. If it’s one month, it’s one month. If it’s three months, it’s three months. Therefore, all that time your visa remains active.
Now let’s say your notice period has ended. Even then, that does not mean that your visa ends. Ultimately, your visa ends either when it expires on its own, so if you have a three-year visa and now you’re in your last month, the visa can expire on its own just by virtue of its term. But the other way for the visa to start basically expiring is when the visa is being cancelled. For example, you have served your notice period and now your employment has officially ended. That does not necessarily mean that the clock has started ticking or the visa is cancelled. In order for your visa to be cancelled, in fact, you have to, for the most part, you have to hand your passport to your company.
Before you could even hand it to the immigration authorities directly, but now in most cases you have to hand it over to the company and the company will send it to the immigration authority and will cancel your visa that way. Only then your visa is considered formally cancelled.
In many cases, especially if there is, for example, a court case, some sort of a dispute between the company and the employee, the time between when your employment ends and the time your visa finally is cancelled can be quite significant. It can be years, and we have seen many of those cases.
For example, someone is employed and has a three-year visa and the employment relationship is terminated after the first year of employment. Then there is a dispute that ends up being in court, and so during that whole period of time the employee actually will remain to be on the company’s sponsorship, i.e. their visa, unless parties want otherwise. You can see the employment has ended long ago, but the immigration relationship continues on throughout the term of the visa, i.e., in this particular example is an additional two years. It’s important to clarify that particular point because there is a lot of confusion about employment and immigration as being one, but as I’ve just shown by way of that example, that’s not the case.
Now, finally you have handed over your passport to the employee and your visa is now cancelled. Remember, the visa we are now talking about here is a residence visa. It’s not a tourist visa. That’s why different rules apply. Once your visa has been cancelled, again, it’s not to say that right away you have to exit the country. You have a 30-day grace period to stay in the country, and that basically applies to all nationalities. There is no need to be concerned that the minute you receive your passport back you must exit the country. You do have that 30-day grace period with no fines.
Now, if you overstay those first 30 days, then you will be fined for 125 dirhams for the first day. That is the fine, so 125 dirhams as compared to the 200 dirhams for tourists, it is significantly less, almost half. Then after that, it’s 25 dirhams for every day of overstaying. Again, compared to the tourist visas, that’s 100 dirhams, so it’s four times less. In other words, the overstaying fines for residents are much less than those for tourists.
Tim Elliot: So the grace period is 30 days. Is there a method through which you could extend that grace period? Because if you’ve been terminated in an employment situation, you may have family dependent on you. You may want to look for another position and stay in the Emirates.
Ludmila Yamalova: Well, other than by paying overstaying fees, no. In fact, if you had a residency visa, then after, as I said before, for overstaying you pay 125 dirhams for the first day of overstaying, then it’s 25 dirhams for each day of overstaying. After six months it’s 50 dirhams for every day of overstaying. We are talking about after six months. After one year, it’s 100 dirhams for every day of overstaying. These are officially available fines that are listed on the U.A.E. government immigration website which, to answer your question, in a way, there is a way for residents to continue to extend their visas here by virtue of just paying fines. Since there are fines that clearly spell out overstaying for more than six months and then even a year, enough cases must exist where the government has clearly laid out additional fines for longer periods of overstaying visas, but other than that, it is just the overstaying of fines, and perhaps, as I mentioned earlier, if you have an employment dispute, then your visa continues on until it expires or until the dispute has been resolved.
Tim Elliot: Okay. There is the classic, what’s referred to the Emirates as the visa run situation. Some nationalities can exit the country and re-enter via, say the Sultanate of Oman. That’s a possibility. You would then re-enter the country on a visit visa for 30 days.
Ludmila Yamalova: Correct. What happens then is if you are a resident, what you were referring to is a visa run for someone, for example, who used to live here as a resident and that visa has come to an end, the 30-day grace period, and then you exit the country and come back. I guess one common way of doing this for a lot of the residents here is going to Oman since it’s so close by, and Oman is a fairly welcoming country for these kinds of purposes. Then you re-enter the country almost the same day. But then when you re-enter the country, you’re now on a tourist visa. You’re no longer on an expired residence visa. You’re now on a tourist visa. Your residence status effectively changes, and then it’s the 30-day period that applies which you can extend for an additional 60 days.
Tim Elliot: We’re waiting for details actually, and this is still not stipulated by the Omani authorities, but I think they’re looking to move to the Oman e-visa situation which is an online application before you get to the border. But it is still possible I believe to pay in cash to enter Oman and then come back into the U.A.E. right now. The thing is with matters like this, Ludmila, in a country where there are so many expatriates and so many different countries, that the advice really, I guess if you want to keep up with the necessary visa procedures is to keep checking with the naturalization and immigration website. That’s kind of the one-stop shop.
Ludmila Yamalova: For sure. Plenty of information is available. Those websites and the resources are updated quite regularly. They are very detailed in terms of the types of visas and the types of fines and the types of processes that exist. One more thing to add is that if you do want to extend your visas, for example, you do so before the expiration of your original visa. To do so, you go to specialized immigration centers which exist all over the U.A.E. depending on which emirate you’re in and you do it there. It’s fairly simple and straightforward to do so. (1) You have the information available on the website, and (2) you have these resident immigration centers all over the country where you can actually go to fairly easily and then apply for your visa to be extended. As you said, the U.A.E. is a very welcoming country, and the processes that exist for helping people extend their immigration status here are becoming more and more – I don’t want to say relaxed – but are easier to extend and more and more countries get the benefit of the same treatment than perhaps existed years ago. These rules that we’ve just discussed right now did not apply previously to as many nationalities as they do now.
Tim Elliot: That’s a point actually to make to reiterate, isn’t it, that the U.A.E. is a dynamic place. Things change here, and things can change here relatively quickly, and that applies to immigration and nationalization arrangements as well. You need to keep ahead of that.
Ludmila Yamalova: You do, and you also need to keep staying informed about any new changes because the changes do happen. Often, in most cases when they do happen, they are announced so there is enough public awareness to at least know that you need to look and make sure that you have the latest information. But even without that, if you do ever have any concerns about either tourist visas or extending your residency visa, do always make it a point to look at the official websites because things do change, and when they do change, at least they definitely will be reflected on the website. Equally so, you can actually call the immigration authority. There are call centers, and they’re quite helpful and they will inform, so that’s yet another resource that definitely people need to avail themselves of because the information is there and it does change, so it’s good to be informed.
Tim Elliot: Ludmila Yamalova is the Managing Partner of the Dubai-based law firm, Yamalova & Plewka. As ever, appreciate your expertise.
Ludmila Yamalova: Thank you.
Tim Elliot: That’s another edition of Lawgical. If you’d like a U.A.E. specific legal question answered, we can try to answer it in a future episode. It’s really easy to get in touch. Just hit Contact at LYLawyers.com. You can find us via any of our social channels or WhatsApp direct 00971 52 525 1611.