The UAE's Emiratisation Requirements

hr Nov 28, 2022

By Sarah Brooks, Fikrah HR

With the UAE’s new labour law introduced in early 2022, there has also been other changes and requirements that have come into force. The major one which you can’t fail to have heard of is the drive for Emiratisation in the private sector.

There’s always been a requirement to hire UAE Nationals, however it carried a very vague target. This year it’s been ramped up, and it is being officially enforced, with targets being set for the future too. By 2026, private sector companies will be required to have a target of 10% of Emirati headcount.

I spoke with John Fitzpatrick, Managing Director and Founder of Emiratalent, about the new rules and legislation, as well as gathering some hints and tips for for hiring Emirati Nationals into your business.

John is an award-winning Managing Director of Search Recruitment, Emiratisation, and High Impact Staffing Solutions. He has a demonstrable track record in the creation, development and strategic management of results centric recruitment vehicles. His main professional focus is towards nationalisation & overcoming various hiring challenges.

Headcount requirements

All mainland private sector companies are required to employ UAE nationals with a minimum requirement of 2% of their total headcount by 31st December 2022. The new requirement of 4% starts in 1st January 2023, and increases annually to achieve the 10% target. Currently all private sector companies with less than 50 people in their employment are exempt from this requirement.

If you are a freezone company, you are currently exempted from the requirement. Although, you are of course encouraged to hire UAE nationals, there’s currently no target and penalties being enforced.

How is it calculated?

So, let’s say you have a total headcount of 73 employees, and these are those that have a labour card with your company, you have an obligation to employ a minimum of 2% of that headcount. This would be a requirement of 1.46 Emirati employees, this is then rounded down to 1 Emirati employee to comply with the requirement.

The requirement discounts all currently employed Emirati Nationals, i.e. if you have any employed earlier in the year, the requirement is an additional 2%.

What’s going to happen if you don’t meet the requirement?

You will have hopefully seen the information in the press about this as the Ministry for Human Resources & Emiratisation (MOHRE) have been pretty forthcoming about the penalties. If you don’t comply with the requirement your business will be ‘charged’ 6,000AED per month per Emirati you haven’t employed.

If your requirement is 2 and you have added one to your headcount, then you will only be charged for the missing one. There are some questions around how the charges will be made and over time this will become clearer, however as has been presented by MOHRE, and as John has found from his research and discussions, there is a strong expectation that your company will be charged upfront with ‘credits’ being given as you fulfil your requirement.

Yes, this means with the above example, that one missing Emirati employee will mean you are charged 72,000AED up front. There is no information at present if you will need to settle that amount immediately, or be given a timeframe to do so but you can expect that it will be linked to any visa quota requirements, MOHRE inspections and trade license renewal processes.

Are there any specific job requirements?

You may remember a few years ago that they introduced minimum salary requirements for Emirati Nationals dependent on their qualifications, this has now been removed and companies can now offer whatever salary they see fit. Companies can offer any roles and job titles they choose for Emirati nationals including the usual requirements around working days, hours, shifts, locations, etc.

John does caution though that Emirati nationals will not just take any job, there are still many positions and careers that they are not interested in. He recommends that you remember the following key points when developing positions for Emirati nationals:

• They have a strong sense of work life balance
• They need specific job descriptions
• They need clear expectations regarding the tasks for the role
• They appreciate flexible working (but be clear with them on timekeeping, targets etc.)

Remember to be considerate with your positions, as there may well be some cultural boundaries to the company or work that you are asking an Emirati national to perform, including the venue or environment in which they would work. Be mindful of the usual things such as alcohol and pork products, but also specifically for female Emirati nationals, work timings and that some families are still restrictive over them coming into contact with men they are not related to. This is where clarity on tasks, specific job requirements and details are key during the hiring process.

John also advises that school leavers tend to be more budget friendly and willing to work for smaller businesses and that those who are living in some of the Emirates more outlying areas will prefer roles closer to home, they tend not to want to trek to Sheikh Zayed Road or JLT daily.

John recommends that when hiring Emirati Nationals that you interview, select and hire for attitude and behaviours rather than skills and experience. He says to look for individuals specifically with a good work ethic. One of the biggest challenges he sees with companies is that they make quick hires and don’t consider these points and then find themselves re-hiring for the same role in a few months due to high attrition. If you find a good work ethic, attitude, and behaviour you can train the rest!

The job title is important, John stated that in his experience ‘administration’ is off putting for Emirati nationals, as are social media/marketing roles and sales positions, however he suggests positions in reception, customer service, accounts and a more general role of operations assistant are usually well received.

Where to find UAE national candidates?

I asked John for his hints and tips on this question as he has been working specifically in recruitment for Emirati national talent for the past nine years with his company Emiratalent, so he has plenty of experience sourcing candidates and is an expert on this subject.

His advice is that there’s all the usual places to post your vacancies however generally speaking Emirati nationals are quite reserved about responding to adverts and vacancy posts. In his experience, sourcing good Emirati national candidates is generally done through referrals and recommendations, so he advises that a good network is key.

John set up a free to join group on LinkedIn called “Emiratisation Matters” in which anyone who joins can post vacancies, he has amassed over 25,000 members, which includes a huge number of Emirati nationals. He encourages everyone to join and get your vacancies posted there too.

Due to the nature of sourcing good candidates, John recommended that you need to make your recruitment ‘purposeful’ and if there was ever a time to enlist the services of a professional recruitment agency to fill this requirement it’s now.

What is the Nafis system?

You many have heard mentioned or seen articles where it mentions a Nafis system. This is a portal set up by MOHRE to support all Emirati nationals and private companies alike. It is free for all to register and really straightforward.

As a company you can post job vacancies for free and receive applications from registered Emirati nationals. You can track and update the applications through the system including if the candidate attends interviews or not, is offered a position, and either accepts or declines it.

For the Emirati national there are a number of benefits. First and foremost, they can apply for salary support credits to support and top up the salary you will provide them. This is not guaranteed for all who apply, and is payable by MOHRE directly to the individual, the company does not get involved in the process. There are some qualifying criteria, but the top ups currently are set at 5,000AED per month for a high school leavers, 6,000AED per month for diploma holders and 7,000AED per month for university degree holders.

Other benefits available on application for Emirati Nationals through the Nafis portal are child care payments of up to 800AED per month per child providing the individual meets the criteria. Again, the company is not involved in the application, approval or payment process for these benefits.

John and I have heard of companies who are including the details of the above payments as part of the offer being made to the potential employee. We strongly recommend that this information is provided to candidates, but not included in any formal or legal documentation from the company, as it is not the responsibility, decision or discretion of the company whether the candidate applies for, or receives such payments. Additionally, whilst this information regarding payments is correct at the time of writing, we are aware that changes may be made in the future to the amounts, process and eligibility.

Other stories I have heard are of companies which are attempting to ‘recover’ these payment amounts from the individuals to ‘reduce’ their payroll costs. This is also highly unethical and not recommended at all. I am sure that if complaints were to be made to MOHRE by an employee, the company would find themselves with a fine or worse.

Who is an Emirati national?

An Emirati national is a person with a Family Book. These are the only Emirati nationals that are recognised by MOHRE for the purpose of the headcount requirements.

You may come across individuals from Comoros Islands and ‘Masoom’, where, for all intents and purposes, they are Emirati nationals just not for the purpose of meeting the MOHRE headcount requirements. Both of these sectors of the nationals will sometimes have a UAE passport, but they will not have a family book and this is the differentiator.

An Emirati national will never be upset or find it unacceptable if you ask to see a copy of their Family Book, and in fact its recommended to do so early on in your discussions to avoid confusion and complications later in the recruitment process.

Any hires you make of other GCC nationals will not count towards the MOHRE headcount requirements.


Other considerations

Many companies have hired individuals more commonly known as “Sleeping” or “Ghost” Emirati nationals. Where a minimum salary is paid, they are registered and have no requirement to attend work. These have always been unacceptable to MOHRE, and they have now begun to crack down on such arrangements and companies that have them. I worked for a company many years ago that received surprise inspections from MOHRE four times in seven months, all because MOHRE had received a tip off that the company had such an arrangement. They did and they were caught and fined. The Emirati National in question lost their job, the company was forced to restructure and hire an active Emirati national and faced challenges with trade license renewals and visas for a while afterwards too.
Remember to make sure your newly hired Emirati national talents are registered with MOHRE as your employee within 15 days of being hired. Your PRO or the Tashjeel offices can support you with this requirement. Don’t forget the Social Security payments that are needed as part of hiring your Emirati national talents and make sure they are paid and its budgeted for the year to come too!

Huge thanks to John Fitzpatrick for his time, support and invaluable insight, answering all my questions!

Please do reach out to him if you need any recruitment support to meet your Emirati national headcount targets. I know he will take good care of you, please do reference Female Fusion when you contact him.

John Fitzpatrick, Managing Director,
Email: [email protected]


About Sarah

Sarah Brooks, MCIPD
Sarah is the founder of Fikrah HR, a UAE-based HR consultancy. With over 20 years of experience in operational Human Resources, Sarah was named one of the top 101 global HR minds in the hotel industry at the World HR Congress in 2019 and 2020.
Sarah has advised a number of local and international organisations, such as Maximus Gulf, No More Bottles, Hope AMC, Landmark Hospitality, First Group, Accor Group, Wyndham Hotel Group. Sarah specialises in overseeing the full employee life-cycle, including recruitment, defining job descriptions, onboarding, policies and procedures, performance management and employee engagement.

About Fikrah HR
Fikrah is your hands on, real world, human resources support function. From small projects to data technology transformations, Fikrah can support you through it all.
Policy & procedure audits, employee onboarding, processes, UAE labour law, HR management training and support for disciplinary procedures, recruitment skills, labour law.

For more information:, [email protected]


Useful Links
Nafis Program:  

Emiratisation Matters: 

Join Female Fusion

We're here to help you at every stage of your business journey, whether you're starting, building, growing or scaling your business.