So with the license completed it was now going into the steps of obtaining my visa attached to the company. If you are the ones that are with an agency that deals with the A-Z of business setup, then they should be guiding you through the next steps. However, if you are like me and have gone in the typing centre way then this is what you should be aware of. To note most of this article will be talking about the mainland visa process in the UAE, as this was my experience, however, I will also provide some notes on the Freezone approaches as well.
Agent, Typing Center, or Yourself?
If you have obtained your License through a business setup agency, then the next step is them directing you through the visa processing. Otherwise if like me, you got your own license then it is utilising the local typing centers. These are places all around the UAE where you drop in and you can utilse many of the functions that require interfacing with the ministry processes. This does mean being flexible to move around, as you would need to participate more in the leg work side. In terms of being able to utilise the ministry services directly, as of yet it does not allow you directly to access the system in the circumstance of obtaining your own visa under your company.
This direct approach of obtaining visas are once you are up and running as a company and you require to obtain visas for your incoming employees, normally you would have employed a Government Relations Officer (GRO) at this point, however, there is no reason why you cannot do it yourself.
There are some choices to be made, the first is to understand if you need to have a visa under your company. For most this would be an automatic 'Yes'. However, if you are an investor and just a company owner and not an active part of the day to day running of the operations then you may not require one. This means you need to make sure that you have the correct set up in place with regards to Partners, and identified General Manager on your License agreement.
When the answer is yes, you do require a visa, then the route you go depends on your current visa situation. For most this is a case of transferring from your current employment, or residence visa onto your own company visa as a Partner. Alternatively, if the case is that you are obtaining a visa from scratch this is probably because you are currently within the UAE either on a visit visa, tourist visa, or on arrival visa. Or you are currently out of the country requiring to apply for a visa remotely.
From here I will describe more of the process that I experienced.
Sitting down at the typing centre these were the outcomes I needed to achieve by the end of the process:
Establishment/Immigration Card - Allowing you to employee others in your company.
Visa Process: Application, Security Check, Change of Status, Medical Test, Bio Metrics (if applicable), Visa Printing and Stamping in your passport.
Emirates Identity Card (EID)
To start this process you require your documents from the license application process, which is needing a copy of the Trade License, the Memorandum, Passport copies of all the partners, and at various points of the process the actual EID of the National Sponsor/Agent.
As long as you have all the documentation and access to the National Partner's EID then the process should be achievable in one to three weeks. Steps one and two take about a week to a fortnight, where as step three will take a further week.
In terms of costing, visa processing are relatively standard and should range between AED5,000 to AED6,500, which should be including the service charges of the typing centre. However, be aware of the medical insurance requirement, as these estimates are also excluding this cost. Medical insurance needs to be obtained and submitted to the ministry of immigration between the step taking your medical tests and having your passport stamped with the visa. The type of medical insurance that you can range from very basic to the most comprehensive. At the typing centre they can acquire the most basic form of medical insurance to just get through the process, however, I would strongly advice that seek more comprehensive cover either through a broker or direct with a provider. Knowing, I will go into more details regarding medical insurance in one of my upcoming articles.
To get back to the freezone processes for a moment. It is to note that each freezone are attached to their own web portal that the business is required to use to make visa application, which is adds a layer to the visa process. The advantages include that the freezone authority will do all the leg work part of the process as long as you upload the require documents and liaise with their courier service as and when they require original copies. The only real interaction part will be when requiring to attend the medical and bio metric tests. This means to you do not require to employee a GRO to operate the system, just a skilled and competent admin employee that can coordinate with the freezone authority. The web portal systems also tend to be easy to use, with their interfaces and enable you to make many other requests, such as bank letters, salary certificates, no objection letters, and other employee requirements.
However, the disadvantages include that the process does take much longer than if you are operating under a mainland license, generally between five to six weeks. The shortest visa process I have known was about four weeks, and this was while using a VIP service, and with much pushing and pulling of string with our connections within the freezone authority. The other thing to be aware of is that the costs generally are higher. If you think about it, it is because you are paying for services being undertaking by the freezone authority staff, the couriers, as well as the actual application costs of the visa process. Generally, you are looking at costs that are approximately AED6,500 to AED8,000.
In the end, where ever you are applying for a visa a good business setup agent, a typing centre employee, or freezone relationship manager would be able to assess your current situation, advice you on the best direction to take, and be able to give you a step by step breakdown of the process, and an estimate of the time it will take to process. But always bare in mind that some parts of the process are difficult to predict such as the security check phase, as this is dependent upon your nationality, age, profession, and your history in the country.
The visa part of my setup process took me three weeks to complete, this was from making the application for my establishment card up until I received my EID. The reason it was not shorter for me was due to having limiting access to my Local Sponsor's EID card. If I had that all the way through I estimate my process would of completed within two weeks.
For more information regarding visa processing, regardless if it is for your startup or for your employees deconstructing HR can help assess your situation and advice your best course of action.