Before we get into the nitty gritty of conducting background checks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is necessary to understand how the UAE is structured. The UAE is made up of seven emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. While every emirate manages its own local affairs, the Federal level is primarily responsible for things like foreign affairs, education, labor relations and public health. Each emirate’s ruler has one vote on the UAE’s Supreme Council, which is the highest authority in the nation, although Abu Dhabi and Dubai oversee critical issues. There are “Free Zones” set up inside the emirates, which are governed by their own laws excluding criminal laws. The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) have their own work laws and guidelines.
Since the financial industry is one of the main industries in the UAE, background checks are becoming increasingly more common. There are numerous legal and cultural considerations that companies should be aware of before implementing a background screening program in the UAE.
Considerations for Conducting Background Checks in the UAE
- In general, the most commonly conducted checks in the UAE include reviewing an individual’s past education and employment history, checking professional references and criminal records checks, depending on the industry and position.
- The work week in the UAE runs from Sunday to Thursday, with companies typically holding office hours from 7:00am to 3:00pm or 9:00am to 5:00pm.
- Employers should obtain written consent from the applicant prior to running a background check, especially if located or governed by the data protection laws in the DIFC or ADGM.
Legal and Privacy Issues When Conducting UAE Background Checks
While the UAE does not currently have data privacy laws on the federal level, it does have various laws that address privacy, including the Constitution (Federal Law 1 of 1971). The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and ADGM do have their own data privacy legislation, including the DIFC’s Law No. 1 of 2007 Data Protection Law, Law No. 5 of 2012 Data Protection Law Amendment and the Data Protection Regulations issued by the Commissioner of Data Protection. This legislation provides a broad definition of personal data including an individual’s name, age, home address, race, sexual orientation, income, blood type, marital status, education and employment information. Sensitive personal data includes information relating to an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, offences and criminal convictions, trade union membership, health or sexual orientation.
Data controllers must notify the DIFC Commissioner of Data Protection when processing sensitive personal data or transferring personal data outside of the DIFC to countries that do not have adequate levels of protection.
Criminal Records Check in the UAE
A criminal record check in the UAE is often referred to as a “Certificate of Good Conduct.” While companies do not usually require these certificates for applicants as part of the pre-employment background screening process, some companies, especially international ones handling sensitive information, may still request the Certificate of Good Conduct as a form of a criminal record check to reduce the liability of a bad hire. It is important to note that criminal records are not used in all hiring decisions in the UAE.
There are many other reasons that someone in the UAE might obtain a Certificate of Good Conduct, including work study, immigration, naturalization, marriage, permission or license, rehabilitation, or a name change. The checks cover active criminal cases, active bank-related cases, and permanent criminal records that are permanent. They are not conducted verbally so biometrics will need to be taken.
Criminal records checks in the UAE are initiated from the Police Station and are then forwarded to General Directorate of Criminal Investigation. If the check comes back “clear,” the Certificate of Good Conduct is issued. If a visa is issued in one emirate, a person cannot request a Certificate of Good Conduct in another emirate. (i.e., an individual whose visa is issued in Dubai, cannot apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct in Abu Dhabi and vice-versa) However, all emirates will be checked be checked by the Criminal Investigation Department.
The UAE also has a rule that anyone entering the UAE as a new employee must provide a conduct certificate issued from his home country in order for a work permit to be issued.
Here are a few other background check products available in UAE:
In in addition to criminal records searches, there are numerous other background checks in the United Arab Emirates, including reviewing an individual’s credit history and motor vehicle records but these searches are utilized only when they are directly relevant to the position being filled. They may not be suitable for every position or industry.
- Professional License Verification – The professional license verification in the UAE confirms the individual’s claimed license and provides the current status of the license claimed; however, other details such as license number, date of issuance, expiration and disciplinary action will be provided when available.
- United Arab Emirates (UAE) Civil Records Search – This search is conducted at the local level through county court judgments. Report may include case type, file date, case number, name of court where case was filed, plaintiff, defendant and disposition if a case can be located. Requirements: Name, date of birth, address, release
- United Arab Emirates (UAE) Bankruptcy Records Search – This search is conducted at the local level through the court based on the jurisdiction of the address provided. Report may include file date, case number, name of court where case was filed and case status if a bankruptcy case can be located. Requirements: Name, date of birth, address, release
- Education Degree Verification in United Arab Emirates (UAE) – It is common to verify only the highest degree obtained by a candidate. Educational institutions will be contacted to verify dates of attendance, graduation date and degree information. Requirements: Name, date of birth, school name, degree, major, dates of attendance, city of school, degree copy and release form.
- Employment Verification in United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Employers will be contacted to verify the individual’s title, dates of employment and if the candidate is eligible for rehire. Typically, employment verifications do not extend beyond a 7-year time frame absent a legal or regulatory requirement to obtain that information. Current employers will only be contacted with express consent from the applicant. Requirements: Name, date of birth, employer name and contact information, dates of employment, position held and release form.
- Reference Check in United Arab Emirates (UAE) – This search is conducted via telephone (or at times e-mail) with the individual’s personal or professional references using a standard list of questions. Requirements: Applicant name and date of birth, reference’s relationship, contact name and contact information (including phone number and email address)
- Motor Vehicle Records – The motor vehicle records search will confirm if the individual possesses a driver’s license. Details of the driving record may be provided if available.
- Global Monitor Check – The Global Monitor Check (GMC) is database product that searches a variety of databases including (but not limited to):
- ID Check in United Arab Emirates – A validation and/or verification of the data subject’s identity documents.
- Directorship Check in United Arab Emirates – A search to determine if a candidate had fiduciary or boards of director responsibilities for a company.