January 8, 2024

United Arab Emirates: Suspension of Employment Sponsorship Transfer in Free Zones

Effective immediately, the streamlined employment sponsorship transfer option for employers of foreign nationals in free zones has been suspended. Going forward, employers hiring foreign nationals currently employed by a different company in the same free zone or in another free zone of the Emirate of Dubai, can no longer benefit from the streamlined transfer process and must complete the standard immigration application process.


  • High impact for employers in Dubai's free zones and foreign nationals seeking employment in these areas.
  • Medium impact on dependents associated with foreign nationals affected by the suspension.

What has changed?

Employers in Dubai free zones can no longer benefit from the streamlined employment sponsorship transfer option. From now on, employers hiring a foreign national currently working for another company in the same free zone or in another Dubai free zone, must follow the standard immigration process. The current employer must cancel the existing residence permit before the new employer can apply to sponsor the individual and apply for a new employment residence permit. Previously, there was no requirement to cancel the existing residence permit which reduced processing times and ensured there was no impact on any dependants of the employee.

Although the suspension has been confirmed by several major free zones, it is unknown whether this is a temporary suspension or if it will be permanently implemented.

Who is affected?

The changes will have an important impact on the costs for employers. The raise of minimum salary together with the increase of the Immigration Health Surcharge starting from January 2024, will have an impact on the costs of visa applications, for employers and for individuals.

What to expect /impact?

The suspension of the employment sponsorship transfer is expected to increase onboarding times for foreign nationals, potentially causing delays in start dates. As such, employers in Dubai free zones must be prepared for a longer onboarding process for foreign nationals, increasing budgeting costs as a result, and managing business and employee expectations. It is likely that increased demand will impact governmental capacity to process applications, therefore greater processing delays may be likely.

Furthermore, dependents will be affected as their sponsorship may lapse during the transition period between the cancellation of the primary foreign national's employment residence permit and the approval of the new employment residence permit. Dependents should be aware of potential exit and re-entry restrictions during the transition period.

What you need to do

For further information on Immigration in the UAE, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team at immigration@sterlinglexicon.com.


Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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