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Mobility Management Middle East

Egypt signs Siemens consortium for six-substation deal

A consortium comprising Siemens and El Sewedy Electric T&D has signed a contract with the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC) for the construction of six state-of-the-art substations.

Located at El Minia, El Beheira, Qalubia, Assiut and Kafr El Zayat governorates, the 500/220 kV (kilovolt) substations will transmit power generated by the new Siemens-built power plants in Beni Suef and Burullus into Egypt’s power grid, said a statement.

Wolfgang Braun, senior executive vice president, Energy Management, Siemens Middle East, said: “A reliable electricity supply is essential to drive sustainable economic growth in Egypt, and we are proud to be supporting the country’s development with advanced technology for an efficient, safe and robust power distribution network.

“These substations will integrate the new, highly-efficient power plants from Siemens into the grid, and enable Egypt to accommodate increasing demand from domestic and industrial customers.”

The contract will see Siemens design, engineer, supply, install and commission the new substations, which will include gas-insulated switchgear, transformers and control and protection equipment, said the statement.

 All civil and electro mechanical work for the projects will be completed by El-Sewedy Electric T&D, and the construction of the substations will match the implementation timeframe of the Beni Suef and Burullus power plants, it said.

The order expands on the memorandums of understanding announced at the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) held in Sharm El Sheikh in March.

The substations form a key element of the Egyptian government’s plan to upgrade and increase the capacity of the country’s national grid. As part of this strategy Siemens and its local partners are also constructing three highly efficient combined-cycle power plants in Egypt – Burullus, New Capital and Beni Suef. 

Each power plant will be powered by eight Siemens H-Class gas turbines, which have been selected for their high-output and record-breaking efficiency. Siemens will also build up to 12 wind farms in Egypt, comprising approximately 600 wind turbines.

 In total, the Siemens power projects will add 16.4 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generation to the national grid, using highly efficient natural gas and renewable technologies to create an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy mix in support of sustainable economic growth for Egypt. - TradeArabia News Service

Palm Hills inks Egypt residential project deal

Palm Hills Development Company, a leading real estate company in Egypt, has signed an agreement with the New Urban Communities Authority (Nuca) to develop an integrated residential project in eastern Cairo on a 500-acre area on a revenue sharing system.

The project, being co-developed with Egypt Ministry of Housing, is likely to attract investments worth over E£35 billion ($4.4 billion), reported the Daily News Egypt, citing the housing minister.

As per the agreement, the Nuca will get 42 per cent of the project’s total revenues at a minimum of E£14.7 billion ($1.86 billion), said Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly.

The 42 per cent will be split into two parts - 10.4 per cent representing the land value of E£10 billion ($1.26 billion) and 31.6 per cent for the project’s total revenue, he added.

Madbouly said the project will be implemented in eight years starting from the day of the first ministerial decision to approve planning.

The Ministry of Housing previously turned three MoUs (memorandums of understanding) signed at the economic conference in Sharm El-Sheikh into contracts, the report added.

GCC residents can now apply online for UAE entry permits

Visa on arrival facility in Dubai to be stopped from October 1

Dubai: Expatriates who reside in GCC countries can now apply online for entry permits to visit UAE through Dubai. The service aims to expedite passenger movement at airports and relieve GCC residents of the hassle of waiting in queues for their visit visas, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs announced on Wednesday.

The online visa application system also features an online payment method which will help passengers avoid the long queues to pay visa fees. As of now, the online system is not compulsory but merely an option for those who would like to complete the visa issuance procedure before arriving to the country.

However, officials said that from October, all visa application processes for GCC residents must be completed online.

Major General Mohammad Ahmad Al Merri, Director-General of the GDRFA-Dubai, said he encourages all GCC residents to apply for entry permits through the online portal.

“We are gradually introducing the system to allow the public to become more familiar with it before it becomes compulsory,” he told Gulf News. “The new system aims at making the entire entry-permit procedure a lot more convenient for GCC residents.”

Maj Gen Al Merri said the visa online service is accessible to expatriates residing in the GCC and those accompanying them, such as domestic help. “By applying and paying the fees online, they will be able to avoid the long queues at airports to get a visit visa.”

“The residency department in Dubai is working to facilitate the procedures for all visitors and residents [from GCC countries] in order to make their visit to Dubai an enjoyable experience,” Maj Gen Al Merri said.

Lt Col Talal Al Shanqeeti, Assistant of the Director-General for airport affairs at the GDRFA-Dubai, said after the beginning of October, GCC residents can no longer get entry permits at the airport upon arrival.

“All procedures will be redirected online,” he said. “At present, we are offering both options. But after October 1, 2015, GCC residents are required to complete their visa applications online before entering the country.”

Lt Col Al Shanqeeti said that the GDRFA-Dubai will distribute brochures in Arabic and English to all visitors to Dubai from any of the GCC countries in order to raise awareness on how to use the new service. Employees of the passport control counters at the airport will distribute a questionnaire on the new service to find out if people are aware of this service and how to use it.

Lt Col Al Shanqeeti called on the public to apply for the visa online via the website of the GDRFA-Dubai.

New UAE rules to ensure healthy labor market

Abu Dhabi: Saqr Ghobash, Minister of Labour, has issued three ministerial decrees in an effort to enhance UAE labour market conditions and consolidate the contractual nature of labour relations.

The new rules, described by the minister as “a major milestone”, also seek to “close certain gaps pertaining to the enforcement and monitoring of labour relations, and provide for increased labour mobility in accordance with the provisions of our labour law”.

“I trust that these new decrees, together with the hard work ahead of us to improve our implementation and enforcement capacities, will translate into a qualitative leap in our quest to improve labour conditions in the UAE,” Ghobash said.

In an interview with Gulf News, Ghobash explained the new decrees, which come into affect in January 2016, and the impact they are expected to have on labour market conditions in the UAE.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

Gulf News: Over the last few years, you issued a number of decrees, understandably at varying intervals. Can you explain what motivates the Ministry of Labour (MoL) to introduce changes in the way it regulates the labour market?

Ghobash: Improving the administration of our labour market is a constant task. At times, it may only require enhancing our enforcement capacity or upgrading the arsenal of regulatory tools that are available to us; at other times, it may require the initiation and application of new policy initiatives that empower us to achieve newly-identified strategic objectives or, more broadly, improve labour market outcomes.

Less frequently, of course, we are called upon to amend our labour legislation, whether in response to key changes in labour market conditions or in order to align our legislation with international conventions that the UAE has ratified.

Policy making, in particular, is a cyclical process. It begins by identifying the key objectives of the proposed new policy, assessing our capacity to apply it, formulating it and then applying it once satisfied of the chances of its successful application. This is followed by monitoring its impact and adjusting it, if and when it becomes necessary.

One such policy initiative that we launched in early 2011 dealt with the rules and conditions for granting a new work permit to a foreign worker whose relation with a current employer has ended — commonly referred to as labour mobility rules. In our view, this had been a major policy initiative, the impact of which stood to significantly alter certain of our labour market’s outcomes.

The desired impact was two-fold: A positive change in key labour market indicators such as labour productivity, skill mix and access to skilled workers, and the enhancement of the protection that is extended to workers under the law.

Studies that we commissioned indicate that in the four years since this policy was introduced, tens of thousands of workers benefited from the new rules, increasing their earning potential by an average of 10 per cent.

Likewise, employers benefited from the new rules by way of increased access to more qualified workers at lesser administrative and recruitment costs.

Another impact had to do with the nature of labour relations: As employers were empowered to compete for skilled and qualified workers, and workers became more easily eligible to seek alternative employment that offers better conditions, the relation between employer and worker took a new dynamic; that of a contractual relation that is consensual and governed by the terms of the employment contract.

This is consistent with the provisions of our labour code.

The new ministerial decrees I am announcing today — three in all — are intended to build on the 2011 decree on mobility by seeking to further consolidate the contractual nature of labour relations, close certain gaps pertaining to the enforcement and monitoring of labour relations, and provide for increased labour mobility in accordance with the provisions of our labour law. They are concurrent and inter-related.

I am confident that these new decrees will prove to be a major milestone and have a significant impact here in the UAE and beyond. 

You say these three new decrees are interrelated. Can you elaborate on that and explain the objectives they are intended to collectively achieve?

The underlying objective of these new decrees is, as I mentioned, to ascertain the contractual nature of the relation between employer and worker; one that is governed by the terms and conditions of employment that were freely agreed to by the two parties, is consummated and, eventually, terminated in accordance with the provisions of our labour code and regulation.

To do so, we needed to address several issues that are relevant to the contracting process and its transparency, to the sustenance of the relation after it is entered into, and to the manner it is lawfully terminated.

Upon termination, the conditions that govern the granting of a new work permit to the worker by the competent authorities needed to be made more flexible, building on the positive impact of the 2011 decree.

Let me begin with a set of guiding principles that influenced the drafting of these new decrees. The first principle is that an agreement to enter into an employment relation must be predicated on mutual, informed consent.

The second is that the duly registered contract is the ultimate reference in terms of the rights and obligations of each party.

The third is that an employment relation is strictly voluntary, that it can only continue on the basis of the free consent of each of the parties and can, thus, be terminated at any time by either party subject to mutually-agreed to conditions for termination.

Once an employment relation ends, the decision to grant or decline a new permit to the worker is confined to the relevant public authorities.

Accordingly, the first of the new decrees mandates that the worker be presented with a unified, standard, employment offer that contains clear and enforceable terms and conditions of employment, prior to the worker’s entry in the UAE.

The signed offer is to be filed with the MoL, then retrieved from MoL upon the worker’s arrival in the UAE and signed into a standard legal contract without substituting or altering the terms of the initial offer, unless the proposed alterations are accepted by the worker and MoL as enhancing the benefits to the worker.

The unified contract shall contain a termination clause that sets out mutually agreed-to conditions for early termination and asserts that neither party can be made to remain in the employment relation against their individual free will.

The second decree defines how a labour relation may be ended. It ends automatically at the end of the term of a limited-term contract if the contract is not renewed; it also ends by mutual consent or by one party acting to terminate it during the term of a limited-term contractor and in the case an unlimited open contract.

The key objective of this decree is to anticipate the various instances of termination and indicate if and what associated measures must be taken to ensure that termination is lawful.

Accordingly, a non-term contract may be ended by either party at any time subject to an agreed-to requirement of notification. The maximum term for limited-term contracts — and their renewal — is now set at two years; a relation that is subject to a fixed-term contract is automatically terminated at the end of the term of the contract unless it is renewed by mutual consent.

It may be terminated during the term of the contract, either by the mutual consent of both parties without further obligation by either of the two parties, or by one party acting unilaterally to terminate the relation subject to agreed-to requirements of notification and indemnification.

The third decree seeks to make mobility rules more flexible within the bounds of our labour legislation. A worker is eligible to obtain a new work permit in many instances of termination. Hence the worker is eligible when a term contract ends and is not renewed, and when a term contract is terminated early by the employer provided the worker is in compliance with the contract and has completed at least the first six months with the employer.

This six-month minimum period is waived for workers that are classified in skill levels 1, 2 and 3 in accordance with MoL classification.

A worker is also eligible to obtain a new work permit when the worker follows due process in terminating a renewed fixed-term contract, or a non-term contract, provided, in the latter case, the worker has completed the six-month minimum period of employment.

A worker is eligible to obtain a new work permit, irrespective of the time spent with the employer, when termination is caused by the employer’s failure to meet contractual obligations.

Thus, in effect, a worker is denied a new work permit when the said worker acts to unilaterally terminate the employment relation with a compliant employer during the term of the contract and when the worker fails to otherwise terminate the employment relation without following due process. 

How does the Kafala (sponsorship) system come into play in all of this?

Kafala is an admission policy that controls the admission of and the granting of residency in the UAE to foreign nationals.

It mandates that foreigners who seek gainful employment in the UAE should first secure an employment contract with a UAE national entity or person, for the most part a UAE-registered business entity, as a precondition for obtaining an entry visa and becoming eligible for lawful residency in the UAE.

As such, Kafala is not unique to the UAE, or the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries for that matter.

What may distinguish the UAE and fellow GCC countries in this regard is that, unlike other countries that administer similar employment-related temporary residence programmes in parallel with other admission schemes, including permanent residency schemes or programmes that offer paths to permanent residency, the UAE immigration code does not provide for such alternative programs.

It is worth noting here that the formulation of a state’s admission policy is the sovereign prerogative of its national government.

Having said this, once a foreign national secures residency in the UAE for the purpose of employment, the relation that he or she enters into with the sponsoring UAE employer is an employment (labour) relation that is regulated by the UAE Federal Labour Law.

This de-linkage of the sponsoring relation, that secures lawful entry and residency in the country, and the labour relation, that is governed by labour legislation and the terms of the employment contract, is essential to the promotion of healthy and productive relations between employer and worker that are predicated on voluntary engagement, trust and the right of either party to opt out of the relation.

The new decrees seek to accomplish this very purpose of ensuring that, as per the provisions of our laws, labour performed by the worker under the contract begins, and continues to be strictly voluntary and consensual throughout the employment relation. 

How do you see the impact of the new regulation in terms of extending protection to foreign workers in the UAE?

The new decrees extend further protection in a number of ways.

To begin with, ensuring the transparency of the contracting process shields the worker from the risk of accepting an employment offer without being fully informed of and consenting to its terms and conditions, on the one hand, and from the unscrupulous practice of contract substitution, on the other.

Ascertaining the contractual foundation of a labour relation and monitoring the relation on this basis ensures that, at any given time during the relation, it shall take the consent of both parties to continue the relation, but the decision of only one of the parties to terminate it; this mitigates against involuntary labour when the worker concludes.

Of course, there remain checks and balances in terms of what measures must be taken by the terminating party in order for the termination to be lawful, but the key point here is that a labour relation, any labour relation can be ended at any time.

Finally, more flexible mobility rules empower workers in the sense that a worker who accumulate skills and competencies on the job can aspire to transition into a more suitable employment opportunity either when the term of the contract expires or during the course of the contract term if certain conditions are met.

We believe that mobility is, in fact, empowering to both workers and employers. 

There are as you know some concerns raised by some international organisations with regard to labour market conditions in the UAE. Will the new decrees address those concerns?

Let me answer your question by first pointing out that what motivates us in our pursuit of a more rational, more equitable and more stable labour market is our commitment to our Constitution, to enforcing of our own laws and to meeting our obligations under international law.

Article (20) of the UAE Constitution stipulates that we “formulate labour legislation that upholds the rights of workers and the interests of employers by emulating advanced legislation elsewhere in the world”.

Article (40) of our Constitution goes on to assert that foreign nationals residing in the Union “shall enjoy the rights and freedoms that are contained in the applicable international instruments or in treaties and conventions that the Union is party to”.

Therefore, we strive to improve our labour conditions out of our own convictions and in fulfilment of our obligations under our own Constitution, in the first place.

This is why, when international organisations express concerns about labour conditions in the UAE, we can neither ignore them nor dismiss them. We are compelled, by our own Constitution, to listen to criticism, when such criticism is constructive, and be prepared to act when it points to factual gaps in our legal and regulatory systems.

I trust that these new decrees, together with the hard work ahead of us to improve our implementation and enforcement capacities, will translate into a qualitative leap in our quest to improve labour conditions in the UAE. 

When will these decrees enter into effect?

We elected to apply the provisions of these decrees starting on January 1 next year. This will give us time to update our systems and processes to align them with the requirements of the new decrees, on one hand, and time to raise the awareness of stakeholders about the decrees’ contents and implementation modalities.

I have instructed the relevant ministry departments to prepare and implement a wide ranging communication campaign to reach out to the various stakeholders, including briefings to employers, educational seminars for workers together with the distribution of information kits in several languages. 

In what way do you think these new decrees will help UAE attract talented, skilled workers and contribute to fulfilling Vision 2021?

Our mandate at MoL is to contribute to the realisation of that part of Vision 2021 that aspires to a national economy that is “competitive and knowledge-based”.

The new decrees contribute to realising this vision in by enhancing the stability and competitiveness of our labour market as a result of more stable and productive labour relations, by attracting skilled workers with the promise of balanced labour relations that allow them to develop and excel, and by leveraging more flexible mobility rules to gradually change the skill mix in our market and empower our businesses to access an expanded pool of skilled workers. 

Will there be consultations with governments of countries of origin aimed at cooperating in raising workers’ awareness about their rights and obligations?

Experience has taught us that unilateral policy initiatives in either country of origin or country of destination often fall short of realising their objectives unless there is a common interest and, therefore, willingness to cooperate in their implementation.

Reigning in labour recruitment malpractices, thus reducing if not eliminating costs borne by workers, is a case in point.

Likewise, implementing these new decrees requires close collaboration in many respects. For instance, a more efficient regulation of the contracting process requires that we align our respective systems of contract validation in a manner that serves congruent interests of both parties. Moreover, we will need to coordinate pre-departure and post-arrival awareness programs in order to make certain workers learn, in sufficient detail their rights and obligations.

Such cooperation is already in place in the context of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue consultative process. One of the programs being developed is an integrated worker orientation programme that can be administered in all member countries of origin to workers preparing to deploy to any GCC country.

We are also keen to work with one or more country of origin to align our respective contract validation and registration systems to ensure transparency, recognising that this will contribute immensely to the success of the worker’s employment cycle from that point forward.

UAE fuel prices drop for January

Abu Dhabi: The Ministry of Energy (MoE) announced new fuel prices for January on Monday. Petrol prices dropped by 6 per cent and diesel by 12 per cent.

The new per litre prices of petrol are Super 98 at Dh1.69; Special 95 at Dh1.58 and E Plus-91 at  Dh1.51.

Diesel price has been fixed at Dh1.61 per litre.

Global oil prices have been sliding continuously due to weak demand and over supply.

From more than $100 per barrel last year, oil prices plunged to less than $40 in recent times as global glut persists.

In  a landmark decision in July, the Ministry of Energy deregulated fuel prices and new pricing policy linked to global prices adopted.

Following the decision, diesel prices reduced by 24 per cent and petrol price has increased by 29 per cent.

However, the trend did not continue and fuel prices fell in the subsequent months as global oil prices plunged.

60,000 expats for fuel project

Director of Government Projects at the Public Authority for Manpower Nasser Al- Shuail disclosed that the sector represented by the Needs Estimation Department and Government Projects Department held a coordinating meeting with the officials of Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) and 12 specialized companies for oil projects (four major contractors, and sub-contractors).

In a statement, Al-Shuail added the meeting was to initiate the execution of environmental fuel project and assign workers needed for the project. He also said the officials will simplify procedures for recruitment of about 60,000 workers from abroad. He noted the meeting was attended by the Director of Workers Need Estimation and Director of Environmental Fuel Abdullah Al-Ajmi.

Based on the directives of acting Director General of Manpower Ahmad Al-Musa, a booth has been opened to deal with the transactions related to environmental fuel project. He noted an agreement has been reached for the employees to finish 2000 procedures within a week, adding the companies executing the project should consider the quota of national personnel among the estimated workforce in the first phase of the project. He added the companies should be committed to professional safety and personal assurance for expatriate workers, stressing the companies will be allowed to recruit a specific number of expatriate workers based on the workforce needed for each stage, while ensuring the workers leave the country after completing their assignments.

No stoppage of visa transfers this year

No project-to private transfer

KUWAIT: Well-informed sources at the manpower authority said the authority will not suspend visa transfers this year in view of the automated system currently being used that can provide statistics about visa transfers to other sponsors. Notably, transfers were suspended every year in the last week of December for inventory purposes. "The new system used for the first time since the authority was established is part of a plan to develop its performance," explained the sources.

Meanwhile, the manpower authority said that expats who came to Kuwait on work permits to work in small projects cannot transfer their visas to work in the private sector at all. The authority added that these workers could only transfer to another small project for the same job.

SNC-Lavalin lands Riyadh airport project

A consortium led by SNC-Lavalin, one of the leading engineering and construction groups in the world, has won a contract to provide district cooling services for the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The Canadian construction company along with its partner Toledo Arabia Company was awarded the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract worth $98 million by Saudi Riyadh Cooling Company.

As per the deal, SNC-Lavalin will be responsible for the design, procurement, construction and commissioning of two district cooling plants, with a total capacity of 38,000 Refrigeration Tonnes (RT), equal to 134 MW, including a thermal storage tank with an output capacity of 5,000 RT.

The engineering work has already started on the project and the construction is scheduled to start later this week, said a statement from SNC-Lavlin.

The chilled water production for the first cooling plant is planned for August 2017 and September 2018 for the second cooling plant, it added.

On the contract win, Ian Edwards, the president (infrastructure), said: "With 45 district cooling projects in the Gulf region, it brings us great pride to leverage our expertise to provide the Saudi Riyadh Cooling Company a viable and sustainable energy solution."

"In addition to meeting the demand for cooling at the King Khalid International Airport, the district cooling solution will lower energy requirements while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sound pollution," he added.-TradeArabia News Service

Riyadh Metro station work on track

The work at Riyadh Metro site is progressing well with the majority of the main stations ready and the project is likely to be completed in 2019, said a report citing a senior government official.

The project will cover 170 locations of the rail network around the city, in addition to tunnels and overland rail which extends to 13 km on the Green Line on the axis of the King Abdulaziz Highway; the Blue Line on the axis of the Olia-Batha Street; the Yellow Line to the King Khaled International Airport; and the Orange Line on the Madinah Highway, reported the Arab News.

About 26 per cent of the project work has been completed, stated Riyadh Governor Prince Faisal bin Bander after inspecting the work.

The project is going full speed ahead in the execution of construction for the principle track and 85 branch stations. These include the Qaser Al Hakum station in the King Abdullah Financial Centre, the western station, and the Fifth Hall Station at the King Khaled International Airport,

The difficult stage of the project is over and the work done can now be seen on the surface, he said.

In the coming days, there will be a surge in the number of labourers working on the project. Currently, there are 31,000 workers, including 7,000 engineers and administrators on the job, he stated.

This proves the project is moving according to plan and is in line with the development plan of the capital, he added.

Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Electricity plan solar power venture

State-owned oil and gas producer Qatar Petroleum and utility Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC) said they had agreed to establish a venture to generate electricity from solar power.

A memorandum of understanding signed on Wednesday provides for Qatar Petroleum to own 40 per cent of the venture and QEWC the remainder. They did not give details of their solar generation plans.

Electricity production by QEWC and its subsidiaries is expected to rise to about 11,000 megawatts (MW) in the first half of 2018 from around 8,600 MW currently, the company said.

Commercial generation of solar power is rare in the Gulf but oil exporting countries around the region are starting to develop it, citing environmental reasons as well as a desire to conserve oil and gas reserves for export in the future. - Reuters

Qatar to implement sweeping labour law reforms in 2016

Qatar is set to implement a new residency law from next year replacing the Kafala (sponsorship) system with a contract-based system that will help in regulating the entry and exit of the expatriates, said a report.

The law was published in the official gazette (Issue No. 29) on December 13, said the daily. It is to be implemented one year after the date of publication in the official gazette, reported Arabic daily Al Sharq.

Issued on October 27, the law has replaced the sponsorship system with a contract-based system and cancelled the exit permit system, it stated.

Under the new law, the expatriate worker can return to the country two or three days after his exit instead of the two-year period required earlier.

The only conditions are that he should be on a new job contract, must fulfill all entry visa requirements and should not have any court verdict against him, said the report, citing Brigadier Mohammed Ahmed Al Atiq, the assistant director general, Department of Boarder Passports and Expatriates Affairs at the Ministry of Interior.

As per the new labour rules, all the expatriate workers will have to sign job contracts with their employers and no exit permit from the sponsor will be required for them to leave the country.

"He only needs to inform the employer that he will be leaving," stated Brigadier Mohammed.

"The employer has no right to stop the worker from leaving the country and in case of any objection from the employer, both sides can approach the grievances committee to be set up under the law to look into such complaints," he added.

However, the law will not be applicable to contracts signed before its implementation.

The Ministry of Interior earlier explained that to leave the country, an employee needs to apply its departments concerned through Metrash 2 and inform his employer three days in advance.

In case of an emergency, the workers can leave immediately after notifying the employer and by approval of the authorities concerned.

Under the sweeping reforms, the expatriate workers will get to keep the passports themselves. Those employers who are found violating the rules will be slapped with a fine of QR10,000 to QR25,000 ($2743 to $6860) for each passport, warned the top official.

The new law also permits expatriate workers to change jobs subject to conditions, he added.

Sephora set to debut in Iran in 2016 (IR)

French chain Sephora is expected to open several shops in Iran from next year, as it becomes one of the first major European specialist cosmetics retailers to directly invest in the country as it emerges from years of economic sanctions.

Sephora, part of luxury industry group LVMH, currently runs around 2,000 outlets worldwide and is looking to develop its presence in Iran where there is significant appetite for cosmetics and make-up.

"Sephora is currently finalizing talks with its partner in Iran," one of the sources close to the matter said.

"Talks are already quite advanced with their distributors," another source said, declining to be named. One source said Sephora was hoping to open up to seven boutiques.

With a female population of over 39 million, Iran is the Middle East's second biggest market for beauty products after Saudi Arabia (and the world’s seventh largest), with annual sales reaching more than €3.5 bln ($3.86 bln) in 2014, according to market research company Euromonitor.

With sanctions being lifted, Iran is expecting an influx of luxury brands as global retailers look to meet the demands of affluent consumers with a thirst for high-end products. Numerous shopping centres have been developed in recent years, particularly in Tehran, and whilst historical sanctions made business tricky for Western brands to establish in such centres this is expected to change as the potential of this market is untapped.

Nigeria: NNDC to Begin Oil, Gas Exploration in North-East in 2016

The Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) on Friday, said it would begin oil and gas exploration in the north- east in the first quarter of 2016.

The chairman of the company, Bashir Dalhatu, stated this while briefing journalists at NNDC's 47th Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Kaduna.

Mr. Dalhatu said the company was collaborating with its technical partners and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), on the expertise and budgetary requirements for the take-off of the project.

The company's Group Managing Director, Ahmed Musa, said NNDC could not commence the project as earlier planned due to the security situation in the region.

Mr. Musa said NNDC was also constrained by finance and production sharing formula.

He said the company needed $20 million for exploration on each of the four oil blocs which caused part of the delay, assuring that plans were underway to begin the project within the first quarter of 2016.

The GMD said the NNDC would open the exploration in the four oil blocs allocated to it in the Lake Chad Basin, while plans were underway to acquire four more oil blocks in the region.

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