April 26th, 2016

Corporate Immigration – Bahrain

Lexis Nexis – February 2016

1. What are the key immigration requirements for those wanting to work long term in the jurisdiction?

Anyone wishing to live and legally work in Bahrain, except for Gulf Cooperation Council nationals, will need to apply for a work visa and residency permit with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).

The key requirements are as follows:

  • Visa Application Form submitted online to the LMRA
  • Employee’s passport copy
  • Employee’s Smartcard copy if available
  • Employee’s GCC residency copy if available
  • Employment contract copy.
  • Employee’s Pre-medical report from an authorised clinic
  • Fees: Vary as per period of validity of work visa (see below).

The form is completed online once the company has been registered with the LMRA and has established an LMRA account. This can be done by an appointed agent or the company/employer themselves.

The employee’s passport must be valid for at least 6 months and preferably valid for 2 years depending on the period of the work visa. If the employee is in Bahrain on a visit visa, a copy of the entry and extension page is required. If they have a cancelled visa, a copy of the visa cancellation and the page which shows the permitted period stay in Bahrain is also required.

The appointed agent or employer must provide the latest electricity bill, which should not be older than three months. The address on the bill should match the CR address.

A clear copy of the employee’s Smartcard copy if they have one.

A clear copy of the employment contract on government official paper or the employer’s letter head signed by both the employer and the employee and stamped with the company stamp. The contract must include the following information:

Name of the employer, the employer’s registered address and  commercial registration number, full name of the employee as per passport, passport number, nationality, date of birth, Smartcard number (if available), job title as per the LMRA designation list, monthly salary in BHD, duration of the contract, start date of employment and notice period. The employment contract should state that the offer is subject to the successful application of the work permit.

If the visa application is made while the employee is outside Bahrain at the time of the application, he/she must submit a clear copy of the employee’s pre-medical report from their home country or country of residence, issued by a center/clinic accredited by Bahrain’s Ministry of Health (available on the LMRA website), showing that he/she is fit to work. If there is no accredited center available to the employee, he/she may complete their pre-medical at a hospital/medical center of their choice in their home country/country of residence, pursuant to the Medical Checkup Requirement Form and required format.

Fees – employers can provide work visas to their expatriate employees for different periods of validity. The fees are:

  • 2 Year work visa BD 200.000 2 years, 12 or 6 months
  • 1 Year work visa BD 100.000 2 years, 12 or 6 months
  • 6 months temporary work visa BD 200.000 One time for 6 months only
  • Work visa renewal for 6 months BD 200.000
  • Work visa renewal for 1 year BD 100.000
  • Work visa renewal for 2 years BD 200.000

If the employee is on a visit visa, an additional fee of BD 60.000 will be charged towards the transfer fee.

The employer or the authorised agent shall submit the work visa application online to the LMRA. Work visas are issued by the LMRA in coordination with other government bodies such as the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, and the Central Informatics Organisation.

2. What are the main permission categories for such workers – and what rights do these bring (including max/min periods of stay)?

The LMRA provides work visas, with the above specified durations and renewable periods, to expatriates giving them the legal right to work and reside in Bahrain. Depending on the specialization of the  expatriate, they may or may not require additional approval prior to being granted a work visa. Each work visa grants the right to the expatriate to work for one employer only per period of work  visa.

3. Is the position different for staff who have previously worked for you internationally – are there any minimum skill, academic qualification or wage requirements?

No, the position is not different for employees who have previously worked for you outside of Bahrain. The work visa application process remains the  same.

There may be specific requirements for skilled professionals and as such, the application process will take longer as additional approvals must be granted prior to the visa being issued. Academic qualifications, experience, and professional body memberships are all required to be submitted and will be verified prior to the approval being granted.

The law is silent on minimum wage requirements, however, the Minister of Labour expects that any graduate, whether local or foreign, receive BD 400.000 per month. In practice, when a worker undertakes employment, his wage shall be set according to the industry standards. Furthermore, the Social Insurance Organisation (SIO) will only accept certain salaries based on their own criteria consisting of the expatriates role, qualifications, experience, and the Company’s activity and number of employees to name a few.

Corporate Immigration 2016

4. What are the key immigration requirements for those wishing to invest in the country?

A foreign national wishing to invest and reside in Bahrain via the operation of their own company here must obtain a Self Sponsorship Residence Permit. The application must be submitted to the Nationality, Passports and Residence Affairs Department of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce with the following documents:

Service request form.

A clear copy of passport.

A clear copy of ID.

Certificate of good conduct & behaviour.

A certified copy of the company’s memorandum of association and his share must not be not less than Bahraini Dinars One Hundred Thousand (BD 100,000).

A valid certificate of health insurance issued from the Kingdom of Bahrain.

A bank certificate confirming a fixed deposit not less than BD 15,000 in one of the Kingdom’s financial institutions, to be committed every 6 months. The certificate needs to be submitted at the time of renewal.

The applicant must have a source of income sufficient enough to support himself and his dependents not less than Bahraini Dinars Five Hundred (BD 500) per month.

A copy of the applicant’s card or his legal representative.

A ‘No Objection Certificate’ issued by the General Directorate of Immigration for BD 20.000

This will apply to all foreign investors except nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates). It is worthy of noting that the Bilateral Free Trade Agreement accords US citizens GCC recognition for certain investment   purposes.

5. What are the key immigration requirements for those wishing to buy property in the country?

Foreign companies and non-commercial individuals wishing to buy property in Bahrain will be subject to Article 1 of Bahrain Decree No. 43/2003 regarding the ownership of property and land by   non-Bahrainis in Bahrain (as amended by Bahrain Ministerial Order No. 67/Year 2006), which allows foreign ownership of property in free zone areas, high rise residential areas and other areas designated by the law such as:

The Greater Manama Area, such as Ahmad Al-Fateh District, Hoora Area, Bu Ghazal Area, Northern District of Manama including Diplomatic Area (areas of high rise residential and commercial structure with elevation of 10 storeys or  above).

Seef District (with elevation of 10, 5 and 3  storeys).

New tourism developments such as Durrat Al Bahrain, Amwaj Islands and Al-Areen Desert   Resort.

Areas which fall within the sphere of the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH), the Bandar Al Seef Area and Reef Island.

It must be noted that Gulf Cooperation Council nationals will not be subject to this, as they are extended the same rights of ownership as Bahraini nationals.

6. Is there any preference/exemption given to individuals from other countries – if so what countries or individuals with family links to the country?

No person is exempt from obtaining a valid visa to allow entry into Bahrain, except for Gulf Cooperation Council nationals. Work visa applications for some nationalities do seem to be processed faster than others (e.g. US nationals are generally processed very fast compared to other Arab   nationalities).

7. Is there an appeal procedure in these cases?

While Article 24 of Bahrain’s Law on Foreigners (Immigration and Residence) of 1965 sets out an appeal procedure and provides that decisions made under the Act may be appealed to the Board of Appeal, in reality, no PRO makes use of this. In practice, various reasons for rejections of visa applications are treated differently on a case by case basis, and as such, the possibility to overturn the decision will depend on this reason. However, if the rejection reason is ‘Change the Person’ issued by the Ministry of Interior, it is known to be a definite rejection for this person’s application, and an appeal will not be entertained.

Corporate Immigration 2016

8. Are there any circumstances (e.g. criminal convictions) which would bar an individual from working in the country?

Medical fitness and freedom of contagious diseases are crucial in assessing a visa application and so failing a medical examination for the same will bar an individual from obtaining a work visa. The  employer is to process the deportation of the foreign employee immediately if the employee has failed the medical examination. In the event that the foreign worker is convicted for a felony or crime that violates honour or honesty, their work visa will be cancelled and the worker will be deported and barred from re- entering Bahrain.

9. Are there any circumstances in which work permits/rights to remain would be removed?

Work permits may be cancelled prior to their expiry in any of the following circumstances:

  • The permit was obtained on the basis of false documents or information.
  • The employee ceases to comply with one or more of the conditions for granting the permit.
  • A final criminal judgment is passed against the employee for a felony or a crime that violates honour or honesty.
  • A final criminal judgment relating to terrorism is passed against the foreign worker or the foreign worker is arrested under an order from the Public Prosecution for terrorism-related acts or crimes.
  • Violation by the workers of the terms under which his work permit was issued
  • The liquidation of the employer’s business, declaration of his bankruptcy, cancellation of his commercial registration or the termination of his license to practice commercial activity.
  • Death of the employer who had obtained the work permit, unless one of his heirs applied for renewal of the permit within six months.
  • A written request from the employer to cancel the permit on expiry of the contract or at the request of employee.
  • Failure of the employer to pay the fees and other payments due to the authority in connection with the permit for a period exceeding three months after such payments’ due date without a plausible excuse.
  • A worker being infected with a contagious disease, which demands his expulsion from the country as specified in a decision issued by the Minister for Health.

10. How are spouses and family members of those with work permits or residence as a result of investment or property ownership treated?

The differences between the visa application for spouses and family members of those with Investor visas or residence as a result of company investment versus those who are under work visas gained via employment with a Bahrain company lie in cost as well as application processes. They are processed by different government bodies. The LMRA processes visa applications filed by dependents accompanying employees, and the GDNPR processes the dependent visas under the visas issued for property investment and foreign investment.

There is also a slight difference in the visa fee of BD 90 for the LMRA and BD 110 for the GDNPR.

The application process for both is as follows:

Spouses and dependent children under 18-years-old are entitled to be granted residency permits based on the residency permit and work visa granted to the expatriate employee or investor. This is referred to as a Dependent Visa or Family Visa.

The requirements for this are as follows:

  • Completed application form;
  • Employee and family’s passports;
  • Marriage certificate copy;
  • Birth certificate copy of children;
  • Smartcard copy of the dependents;
  • Visa fee as stated above.

The application form for the LMRA is online and the application to the GDPNR is submitted by hand.

A clear copy of above mentioned passports, personal details page, valid for at least six months (preferably for 2 years or 1 year depending on the period of validity of the dependent visa). If the dependent is in Bahrain on a visit visa, then a copy of the entry page into Bahrain and the last extension page (if it is extended) are required. If the visa is cancelled, then a copy of the visa cancellation and the extension page (the page which shows the permitted period of stay in Bahrain) are   required.

Marriage certificate: In the application of the wife’s visa, a copy of the marriage certificate must be  provided in English or Arabic. In the case of Arab nationalities, it must be Apostilled or attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bahrain Embassy from the country of origin and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bahrain. The Bahrain attestation should be on the front side of the document. In   the case of Indian nationals, the same procedure is applicable., if the husband’s name is not endorsed in the passport of his wife. If the certificate is in any other language than English or Arabic, it must be translated and must follow the above mentioned attestation/apostille  procedure.

Birth certificate: In the application of the children’s visa, a clear copy of the Birth certificate in English or Arabic is required. In the case of Arab nationalities, it must be Apostilled or attested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bahrain Embassy from the country of origin, and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bahrain. The Bahrain attestation should be on the front side of the document or else the document can be Apostilled. If the Birth certificate is in any other language than Arabic or English, it must be translated and follow the above mentioned attestation/apostille   procedure.

In the application of the children’s visa, a no objection letter from the dependent’s father is required.

Smartcard/CPR copy if available.

11. Who qualifies as family members in such circumstances?

Family members, pursuant to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority Law, are direct dependents, spouses and children under 18 years’ old of the expatriate. Children over 18 years’ old and other   family members (i.e. parents, siblings), will have to apply for a visa independently and directly through the General Department for Nationality, Passport and Residence Affairs and separate from the foreign worker’s visa.

12. How does the process work for those visiting on business short-term – and are there restrictions on business visitors without residency?

An individual visiting Bahrain for a short-term business trip must obtain a Business Visit Visa from the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence for such a trip. The relevant application must be completed and lodged with the Directorate, together with the following documentation: a copy of the visitor’s passport; a copy of the CR of the company; a letter prepared by the inviting company explaining the reason for the visit; a copy of the applicant’s Smartcard/CPR (identity card) or legal representative lodging the application on behalf of the visitor; and Fees of BD 25.000

Furthermore, business visitors without residency are restricted to the activities they conduct whilst in Bahrain on such a visa. They are not permitted to conduct other work related activities. They must also ensure they exit Bahrain prior to the expiry of their visa, or any renewal   thereof.

13. Are transit visas required for those passing through the country?

A passenger need not obtain a transit visa if he is to remain in the airport. If the passenger intends to exit the airport and pass through Bahrain to Saudi Arabia across the causeway, then a transit visa can be arranged specifically for this purpose.

14. What are the procedures for gaining right to remain/work permits?

The procedures for obtaining a work visa are those set out in question

15. How long do the procedures for main working categories take?

Processing applications by the LMRA will take approximately ten working days. However, visa processing times can vary depending on the nationality of the expatriate employee, e.g. Arab nationals usually take longer.

16. In practical terms how flexible are the authorities – in what sort of cases might exemptions be granted?

The authorities are not very flexible, and the Labour Market Regulatory Authority Law does not specify any exemptions that might be granted.

17. How does the quota system impact the recruitment or transfer of international staff?

Bahrain Ministerial Order No. 7/1996 states that companies with 10 or more employees and with a percentage of Bahraini employees being less than 50% must increase the numbers of the their Bahraini workforce by 5% every year for a period of five years. Companies with less than 10 employees must employ at least one Bahraini employee. However, despite this Ministerial Order having not been cancelled, it is not applied in practice. The Bahrainisation requirements are determined by the LMRA depending upon the activities to be undertaken by the companies and are dealt with on a case by case basis. Thus, the impact of this is dependent on the Bahrainisation quota imposed by  LMRA.

18. What proof does an employer need to show to prove they have given a fair opportunity to local employees?

There are no specific laws designating the standard of proof to be shown with regards to giving a fair opportunity to local employees, however, employers are expected to give preference to Bahraini nationals or an equal opportunity over equally qualified foreign  nationals.

19. Are there any restrictions on those with work permits?

A foreign employee for whom a work visa is issued shall adhere to the requirements of the work permit issued thereunder and shall not work with an unauthorized employer (an employer who is not the foreign employee’s sponsor as specified in the work permit). The foreign employee may also not conduct any work different to that which is stated in his work visa. On this basis, an employee may not work for any party other than the employer registered as his sponsor and in the designated place of employment as stated in the work permit. Employment by another would be seen to be a contravention of the law.

20. How easily can short term visas be converted?

Short term visas can easily be converted. If the employee is in Bahrain on a visit visa, the employer shall submit the work visa application to the LMRA before the expiry of the visit visa and it is advisable that such application is submitted at least 7 days before the expiry of the visit visa. If the employee has a multiple entry visit visa, it must be cancelled prior to submitting the work visa application (if the visa application is submitted while the employee is outside  Bahrain).

A worker/employer must apply for the work visa during the time in which the visit visa is valid, and must not engage in any work whatsoever prior to being granted the work  visa.

21. What is the procedure when an immigrant worker wishes to switch employers?

An expatriate employee may transfer their employment to another employer, without the need to cancel their existing work visa, without the need to travel out of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and with or without the consent of their current employer. Such transfer is available only while the expatriate employee’s permit/visa is still valid for at least three months (in some cases, six months), and in instances where the current employer does not consent to the transfer, the employee will have to have spend at least one year in their current employment.

Firstly the employee must, before the expiration or cancellation of their work permit, give written notice to their current employer by registered post evidencing the confirmation of such postal delivery and receipt of such notice by the employer. The employee would be required to give proper notice of termination of employment in accordance with the agreed contractual terms or the minimum legal requirement of 30 days’ notice. The notice period would not be expected to exceed three months. Thereafter, the other employer must lodge an application with the LMRA for a new work visa for the employee (known as mobility). After receiving all the documents, the LMRA will usually make   a decision on the work visa within three working days of receiving all relevant approvals, and validation of the decision will be made upon payment of the fees. Upon successful transfer, the expatriate employee’s work visa will be replaced with an updated visa reflecting the new employer’s details, who then   becomes the employee’s sponsor. It is only until such a transfer is complete and registered with the LMRA and the relevant authorities that an expatriate employee may commence work for the new employer.

22. How does exit and re-entry impact work permits?

An expatriate employee holding a Bahraini work visa may exit and re-enter Bahrain as many times and for as long a period as they so wish within the validity of their work  visa.

23. What evidence should those with work permits provide when re-entering the country?

A valid passport with a valid residence permit/work visa stamped in the foreigner’s passport are required when re-entering the country.

24. Under what circumstances (if any) can long term workers qualify for indefinite leave to remain or citizenship?

Article 6(1) of the Bahraini Nationality Law of 1963 provides that a foreigner who legally and  continuously resides in Bahrain for no less than 25 years, or an Arab national who legally and continuously resides in Bahrain for no less than 15 years, may apply for the Bahraini nationality provided that the individual is of good morals; has adequate knowledge of the Arabic language; and owns a fixed property in Bahrain, registered under his name in the Land Registry in Bahrain.

Furthermore, His Royal Highness the King has the discretion to grant the Bahraini nationality to any individual seen fit, and any Arab national may request to be granted the Bahraini nationality in instances where that individual has given the country his meritorious service. These applications are submitted in person and are entirely at the discretion of the  authorities.

25. What are the penalties for employers for failing to observe immigration/work permit rules?

Without prejudice to any severe penalties stipulated under the Penal Code, infringement of work permit/immigration rules by an employer will subject the employer to imprisonment of not less than three months and not exceeding one year and/or a fine of not less than BD 1,000/- and not exceeding BD  2,000/-. Habitual offenders will face imprisonment of not less than six months and not exceeding two  years, with a fine of not less than BD 2000/- and not exceeding BD 4000/-. In the event of conviction, the court may order cessation of business of the convicted employer or closure of premises for a period not exceeding one year. If the offence is repeated, then the court may order cancellation of the employer’s commercial registration.

26What are the penalties for individuals for failing to observer immigration/work permit rules?

The infringement of work permit rules by an individual will subject that individual to a fine not exceeding BD100/- and possible deportation in the event of conviction. A prohibition on re-entry may also be imposed on a permanent basis or temporarily for a period of not less than three years. As is the case with infringing employers, the infringement of immigration rules, i.e. providing false or   misleading information, will subject any individual to imprisonment of up to three months and a fine not exceeding BD 500.000

 

Contributing Authors

Ms. Rana Al Alawi

Associate

Zu’bi & Partners Attorneys & Legal Consultants

Contact: Qays H. Zu’bi, Senior Partner T: + 973 17 549 605

E: qzubi@zubipartners.com

W: www.zubipartners.com

 

Zu’bi & Partners Attorneys & Legal Consultants

Zu’bi & Partners (the “Firm’) is the merged firm between two long-established Bahrain law firms:  Hatim Zu’bi & Partners, the oldest established local law firm in Bahrain, and Qays H. Zu’bi Attorneys & Legal Consultants.

The Firm provides legal services across all leading sectors, including banking and finance, corporate, commercial, construction, energy, IT, communications, real estate, insurance, IP, to name just a few. The Firm also acts for both corporate and high net worth individuals in many diverse areas, including litigation, arbitration, property, labour, trade and family law.

The breadth of expertise and success of the Firm has been widely recognized by independent legal commentators and publications and is reflected in its client base of leaders in their fields, including both private and public institutions, government and quasi-government bodies, as well as high net worth individuals.

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