What is the change? Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) is offering 24-hour processing of work and residence visas for 7,500 companies employing 150,000 employees in Jafza and National Industries Park (NIP).

What does the change mean? The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs reached an agreement with JAFZA to provide the streamlined electronic via its recently upgraded digital system.

  • Implementation time frame: Ongoing.
  • Visas/permits affected: Work and residence visas.
  • Who is affected: Companies operating in JAFZA and NIP.
  • Impact on processing times: 24-hour processing.
  • Business impact: The faster processing is intended to attract and retain companies in the free zone as the mainland liberalizes rules for foreign direct ownership and investment.

Background: Even prior to this announcement, the move to online immigration systems in Dubai meant that free zone visas could typically be approved within 2-3 working days. JAFZA is going a step further in putting into place an agreement to allow its visas to be processed within 24 hours. This comes after a recently announced UAE policy change that will allow entities that are 100-percent foreign-owned to operate on the mainland. Under current policy, companies that are wholly foreign-owned may operate in the free zones, but mainland companies must be partly owned by a local entity or partner.

BAL Analysis: As free zones seek to maintain their competitiveness with mainland companies and with other free zones, it is expected that 24-hour visa approval is likely to spread to other free zones and become the norm across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This has been made even easier as the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs has set up immigration offices dedicated to each free zone. Visa stamping, however, will continue to take longer, as it is dependent upon the completion of in-country processes as well as evidence of valid health insurance.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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