UAE is expanding the scope of its freelance visas, which could add bring in more job and skillsets under the 'freelancer' tag. UAE's businesses can benefit as well. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Widening the scope of the UAE’s freelance visas will open up more opportunities for talent – and also help local businesses better manage their workforce costs, according to industry sources. This could have an immeasurable impact on future salary and rewards structures for employees as easy availability of freelancers creates options for organisations.

“A bigger talent pool helps companies control costs by stopping unsustainable salary rises,” said Vijay Gandhi, regional Director at Korn Ferry, the specialist HR consultancy. “Or it can be a company that is unwilling to commit to full-time workers and wants to stay flexible.

“The increasingly mobile workforce means individual staffers may not be retained in the long-term.”

Some of this emerging trend is already happening in the local tech projects and in advertising, the two categories that took to freelancers and independent contractors in a big way. On Sunday (September 6), the UAE confirmed it will add more features to the freelancer visa status, which could then lead the way to more skillsets becoming available in the freelancer pool.

“Depending on the experience and background, companies definitely need freelancing services to cover maternity leaves, illnesses, increased workloads or a specialized skill that is needed on a short-term basis,” said Gandhi. “Many business leaders are thinking to increase their freelance and contract workers is a way to deal with talent shortages.”

UAE free zones and their freelancer rates
Tecom in Dubai
License fee: Dh7,500 annually
Establishment card fee: Dh2,000 annually
Visa fee: Dh5,000 for 3 years
Medical and Emirates ID: Dh1,200
Total: Dh15,700

UAQFTZ in Umm Al Quwain (2 professional activities can be included in one permit)
License fee: Dh8,000 annually
Visa fee: Dh2,500 (3 years)
Medical and Emirates ID: Dh1,200
Security deposit: Dh2,500 (refundable)
Total: Dh14,200

RAKEZ in Ras Al Khaimah
License fee: Dh6,635 (1 year)
Pre-approval fee: Dh100
Visa fee: Dh2,420 (1 year)
E-channel fee: Dh1,200
Medical and Emirates ID: Dh1,200
Total: Dh11,555

Shams in Sharjah (This is only for media activities or ecommerce)
License fee: Dh7,745 annually
Immigration card: Dh1,575 (3 year)
E-channel: Dh2,525
Visa fee: Dh3,675 (3 year)
Medical and Emirates ID: Dh1,200
Total: Dh16,720

AFZA in Ajman
License fee: Dh6,000 annually
E-channel: Dh2,200
E-channel deposit: Dh2,500 (refundable)
Visa fee: Dh2,800 (3 year)
Medical and Emirates ID: Dh1,200
Total: Dh14,700

CREDIT: FinExpertiza Global

All about costs

After a torrid 2020, local businesses will also prefer to keep their HR costs down where possible. While more jobs have been added in the last three months by the UAE’s private sector, companies are not likely to go back to full hiring mode any time soon. Instead, where possible, outsourcing and tapping freelancers will be the way they manage their operational costs.

Free zones roll out the carpet

Atik Munshi, Managing Partner at FinExpertiza Global, sees the latest UAE announcements on visa categories as a “gradual move from an (employer) sponsored system of residence visas to a system of self or state sponsorship. Than a person’s residence in the country is no longer tied up with a company job. Plus, the residency status will thus not be impacted if the person loses the job.”

Currently, the average cost for a freelancer license (plus three-year visa) from a local free zone is around Dh11,000 a year and upwards. But these costs could come down as free zones turn hyper-competitive. (This is already visible when it comes to a standard business license, with Abu Dhabi dropping the fees to as low as Dh1,000.)

“We still need to wait to find the eligibility criteria and requirements from the authorities,’ said Munshi. “The freelance and Green visa holders are expected to have similar benefits as Golden visa holders.

“Earlier, freelance visas were issued by UAE free zones for persons having special skills like a photographer, painter, author, etc., operating under a corporate setup and the validity of the visa was three years. The latest announcement seems to be broader to include self-employed individuals and business owners.”

All about keeping costs in check
"Organizations can stock their requirements better and cost-effectively by tapping into existing or underutilized talent. Many leaders worry their current workforce is incapable of learning skills to face future challenges. This only shows that too many companies have fallen into the trap of thinking about their people’s potential in a linear, traditional way.

"This will be disrupted when workers who have followed long-accepted training trajectories become scarce, prompting creative approaches like employing freelancers as a means to business success.

"Innovative programmes can be designed for companies to attract and train young people to be agile workers. These efforts need not follow a traditional academic route. Building talent in-house can be cheaper and upfront than buying it at a premium. It also widens the talent pool for an industry.

"The increasingly mobile workforce with contractors and freelancers means that individual staffers may not be retained in the long term - but these losses can be offset by the creation of extra available workers. A bigger talent pool helps companies control costs by stopping unsustainable salary rises. It can simply be a company that is unwilling to commit to full-time workers and wants to stay flexible."

- Vijay Gandhi of Korn Ferry