Are new UAE longterm visas too exclusive to make a difference?

Are new UAE longterm visas too exclusive to make a difference?

Are new UAE longterm visas too exclusive to make a difference?

Is the UAE’s new long-term visa scheme just a watered-down version of the controversial Golden Visa?

In an announcement today, the UAE announced it has granted permanent residency to some 6,800 foreign investors for a total price of 100 billion dirhams – about $27 billion. The plan is similar to another announced last year, which offered long-term visas renewable on expiry. It’s a first for the Gulf States’ normal position on expatriates, as previous visas were mainly structured to guard the privileges available to citizens, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia also pushing a programme granting permanent residency to expats at a certain level.

Foreigners eligible for the new UAE visas include wealthy property investors and senior level entrepreneurs and scientists, with the move aimed at supporting both the local economy and the real estate market, hard hit recently by the fall in oil prices. By definition, the new visas exclude the vast majority of expat professionals who’ve contributed long-term to the prosperity of the region as a whole. Available are five-year visas for those owning property worth five million dirhams and upward, as long as the money is wholly owned and not loaned. Renewable ten-year visas require investments in the emirates of no less than 10 million dirhams as long as non-real estate assets form at least 60 per cent of the total amount.

Given the expat-weighted demographics of the region and the make-up of the expat community, white-collar professionals who’re most likely to purchase homes on a long-stay basis are effectively excluded, with their sector now seeing falling employment levels. One expat researcher believes the new deals are pointing in the right direction, but adds the policies need broadening to have any effect on the real estate market and domestic demand. In brief, far larger numbers of the majority expat population should be allowed similar freedoms.

An important exception in the two visa programmes is the lack of a pathway to full citizenship, an important issue as almost two-thirds of the UAE's population are foreigners. The issue is too sensitive for immediate action, but would ensure a good number of expat professionals who’d worked long-term in the region would choose to stay after retirement. Many Eastern European countries as well as Turkey have far less stringent citizenship requirements and don’t limit their offerings to residency alone.

In the increasingly mobile world of work, job security isn’t the only motivation for leaving one’s country of birth and spending years working overseas in a place now referred to as home. Especially for expats whose families include children born overseas, the ending of long-term contracts can cause massive upheavals and an unacceptable change of lifestyle.

In the UK, the main argument against Brexit is the loss of free movement, threatening to displace those who’ve spent a majority of their working lives within the EU Bloc and don’t necessarily relish the thought of being forced back to the UK. It’s the same for professionals working in the Gulf States, but the new visas are all about the kind of money the majority of expats will never be able to amass, however long they stay, however hard they work and however much they’ve contributed to the region.

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