All you need to know about securing a visa to study in the UAE

Since highly accredited universities such as New York University and Sorbonne opened their doors in the UAE, there has been an increase in foreign students studying here. In fact, according to a 2014 report by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science Research, expatriate students in higher education now account for an impressive 40 per cent of the total 128,279 students across the UAE. So how can a student secure a visa to study in the Emirates?

How to qualify

While unmarried daughters in the UAE can remain under their father’s sponsorship regardless of their age, sons cannot be sponsored by a family member beyond 18. On an exceptional basis, immigration authorities have been known to allow male students over the age 18 to continue their parent’s sponsorship for a UAE residence permit so long as they provide evidence of attendance at an educational institution for a minimum one year’s course. Such a residency is usually granted for one year at a time and difficult to obtain beyond the age of 21. Therefore it’s important to consider other sponsorship options such as through the academic institution itself. For international students with no relatives in the UAE, a higher educational institute such as an accredited university can generally assume the role of sponsorship, making the application process more streamlined. The application will require submission of the requisite documents followed by a medical check-up. Annual renewal of student visas is required for each year of study.

The fine-print for a six-month gap

Once a student visa is granted, leaving the UAE for a consecutive period longer than six months (180 days) can lead to the invalidation of the visa unless the reasons fall under special exceptions to this rule. For example, medical treatment supported by a doctor certificate and approved by a UAE embassy. This means that students looking to do terms abroad will have to do so for less than six months, otherwise they will have to reapply for a new visa on their return. With many international study-aboard programmes offering four to five-month courses, a dream term in Barcelona or New York is still very much a possibility.

Working on a student visa

Under the Federal Law, students over 18 can apply for work permits enabling them to apply for part-time jobs to help fund their education, rent and general expenses. For the more ambitious students, this enables them to apply for internships or work experience while studying, something that will give them a competitive advantage when applying for jobs after graduating. While this is applicable to the mainland, other jurisdictions have implemented similar regulations for student employment. The Dubai Creative Clusters Authority, for example, announced on Octo­ber 18 that students from selected universities are able to take up employment at about 4,500 businesses across nine creative clusters including Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City.

After graduation

Many graduates from UAE educational institutes decide that, with no current income taxes, excellent career opportunities and a lucrative lifestyle, the UAE is a place they would like to call home. If not sponsored by a parent or spouse, it is possible for new graduates to obtain employment residence permits sponsored by an employer. However, international graduates unable to find employment are required to cancel their student visas and leave the UAE until employment is secured from abroad.

While female graduates are able to transfer to father/spouse sponsorship, expat men or women with no sponsor or job will be given a 30-day grace period after the cancellation of the visa during which they can stay in the country without a visa.

The cost

The cost of a residence permit for student depends on the sponsor (parent or university), the jurisdiction of the sponsor (in case of university), if the applicant is inside or outside of the UAE and if the application is processed in a normal or expedited way. Further differences may apply depending on the emirate or jurisdiction within the emirate.

In addition to the residence permits, individuals will be required to obtain a student work permit. The approximate cost of a student residence permit is Dh2,500 excluding security deposit (if applicable), file opening fees (if applicable), legalisation of documents and translation (if required). Additional fees of Dh500 for a student work permit will apply.

Murtaza Khan is a partner at Fragomen, a global corporate immigration services provider.

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