The 53-year-old Briton is among a wave of residents who have secured a 10-year golden visa, which she says has enabled her to embrace the UAE and plan for the long term.
Ms Banks, Hilton's vice president of F&B strategy and development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says the golden visa provided her with an incentive to invest in the UAE for the long term.
“I am not so sure I would have bought an apartment [without it],” Ms Banks says.
“We will continue to rent and reside in our family home in Al Safa and rent the [Palm Jumeirah] apartment out until my husband and I downsize to live there.
“We also consider it an investment for our daughter, who may choose to make Dubai home after university when she starts her professional career.”
Ms Banks arrived in the UAE in August 2013 with her husband, Jon Doubt, and daughter, Lily, who was eight at the time. She joined Hilton in February 2019.
Based in a “great global hub location”, she was initially shocked when first approached about applying for a golden visa as a “creative innovation specialist”, believing only people such as “artistic individuals, serious investors and medics” would qualify.
“It was explained that I was being considered for my services to hospitality and the food and beverage industry in the UAE,” Ms Banks says.
“What I was most happy about was my husband and daughter would be entitled to a golden visa as well – one of the greatest opportunities I could give my daughter over and above her education.
“It would give her options to live in the country we have called home … a country of great opportunities.”
Ms Banks started the application process last September and is now investing in the Palm Jumeirah apartment after reviewing her family's financial plans.
“I feel more confident of being able to stay in the country longer term and eventually, when I leave full-time employment, set up my own consultancy and work from both Dubai and Europe.”
The UAE implemented its golden visa programme in 2019, providing people with an opportunity to set out longer personal and professional plans and enabling the country to attract, retain and reward talent as part of its plans to boost the economy.
Among those eligible are investors, entrepreneurs, high-achieving students, people with special talents and researchers, in various fields of science and knowledge. Frontline medical workers and celebrities ranging from Giorgio Armani to Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan have also been recipients of the golden visa.
This month, Bahrain also approved a 10-year golden visa programme for selected foreigners as the country seeks to attract talent amid economic recovery.
Under Bahrain's programme, qualifying applicants need to have lived in the kingdom for five years or more, earn an average monthly salary of at least 2,000 Bahraini dinars ($5,306) or own property worth 200,000 dinars or more. Retirees with a 4,000 dinar monthly income, and highly talented individuals, are also eligible.
Meanwhile, in the UAE, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) just announced new banking products and services designed for golden visa customers – including attractive interest rate mortgages and rewards – through a strategic partnership with the Abu Dhabi Residents Office.
Among other eligibility criteria, ADCB customers can apply for a golden visa under the investor category with a minimum Dh2 million bank deposit.
Alex Broun, a writer, director and producer for theatre and film, and his four-year-old daughter, Naraya, recently moved to Dubai’s Town Square community. He says he would have considered a different future were it not for his golden visa.
The Australian considered seeking prospects elsewhere, but was encouraged to stay after receiving a Dubai Culture letter in 2019 confirming his golden visa nomination.
“It was great to know all the work I had done in the performing arts in Dubai over the past decade was being recognised,” Broun says.
“It was important in making me feel my contribution was valued, it certainly deepens my connection with the UAE and makes me feel welcome and wanted, important for someone in the performing arts.”
Broun says the golden visa works out cheaper than renewing a residency visa every two years.
“It also gives me more freedom, as recently I changed roles but there wasn’t a mad rush to secure a new position and new visa, which would have been the case before … no more border runs.”
Broun, who starred in Australian soap operas Neighbours and Home & Away early in his career and acted alongside Nicole Kidman at the Australian Theatre for Young People, was previously head of drama at Studio Republik and brought the Short+Sweet play concept to Dubai.
Recently, he has been advising Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture on theatre and the performing arts.
The golden visa introduces some stability in an otherwise fluid profession, Broun says.
“You really have to go where the work is – I don’t think any industry has been more affected by Covid – but hopefully that will be here over the next few years.”
As co-founder of The Laughter Factory, Gail Clough has been bringing comedy to UAE audiences for 25 years.
A resident of the UAE for 30 years, she was “gobsmacked” when she learnt she had been nominated for a golden visa two months ago.
“Dubai is full of brilliant, talented people … I am just putting clowns on a stage and helping to make people laugh, so it was a lovely surprise,” says the Briton, 56.
Ms Clough, who lives at Jumeirah Lakes Towers, says the extended visa will save the hassle and cost of two more visa processes and enable her to continue planning tours for one of the world’s oldest comedy clubs.
“We have been bringing acts such as Russell Peters, Michael McIntyre and Jack Whitehall to the UAE,” Ms Clough says.
“It’s lovely that the club has been recognised as a UAE institution.”
British artist and designer Clare Napper, whose Highlife vintage posters encapsulate the UAE expat experience, is another golden visa recipient after Dubai Culture contacted her to say her name had been put forward for a cultural visa.
“It was completely unexpected and I felt hugely grateful and proud that my artistic journey had ended in a moment of recognition from the country I have called home for 14 years,” Ms Napper, 43, says.
Although she had recently funded a new three-year visa, she was happy to revisit the process for her long-term future.
“It has inspired me to continue to run my Highlife business for the next decade,” says Ms Napper, who also designed Expo 2020 Dubai souvenir products.
“If I ever needed to spend more time in the UK, this would allow me to continue to run my business here and travel back and forth easily.”
The visa status also brings some cost benefits, she says, including cheaper yearly trade licence renewals.
“I definitely feel more connected to the UAE and [it] gives me a sense of security,” she says.
Dr Jin Peh, who is from Malaysia, first moved to Dubai 18 years ago after studying medicine in Australia, working in broadcast journalism and training in Feng Shui.
Securing a golden visa halted a permanent move to Australia, where the Chinese astrology expert and author was stuck for six months – and even bought property – when pandemic border closures struck during a 2020 teaching trip.
“It changed everything because I have some permanency here … I can make long-term plans,” says Dr Peh, 49, who currently teaches Feng Shui via Zoom from his Dubai home instead of travelling.
“It is validation of my work, of all the time that I spent here and how I’ve made this country my home … my loyalty got reciprocated.”
Dr Peh, an Arabic speaker who was previously on a Ras Al Khaimah company visa, applied through a consulting company, which advised that he would qualify based on his personal culture and for bringing cultural value to the UAE.
“Every three years, you’ve got to review your plans [but] cost-wise, the golden visa is much better,” says Dr Peh, who paid fees totalling Dh9,000.
“There was a big question mark as to whether I would stay on in Dubai, [now] I’m happy to put down roots in the sense that I’m not leaving anytime soon.”
The golden visa programme could promote the growth of the performing arts industry and boost its contribution to the UAE economy, Broun says.
“There are many talented people here, and more artists are being encouraged to base themselves here due to the golden visa,” he says.
“It will be interesting to see how the scene develops in Dubai coming out of Covid and post-Expo.”
Broun hopes that when major projects such as Expo happen in the future, organisers will look to locally based talent.
“When you employ people based in other nations that money goes out of the country, whereas if you use people based here, it keeps that money in the UAE and it flows into the local economy,” he says.
Ms Banks, a board of governor’s member at Dubai College of Tourism, says her golden visa makes commercial sense for her sponsor, Hilton, not having to renew every three years.
She also believes that all new UAE visa initiatives, including for retirement and remote working, will make Dubai “seem even more open to encourage people to live here long term”.
“My husband and I will look to split our retirement between Dubai and Europe as long as we remain healthy,” Ms Banks says.
“I hope to live here for a very long time … it’s a great lifestyle, and the greatest city in the world in my opinion.”