Hard times drive expats back to their parents

With the recession making jobs scarce and less predictable, young expatriates are returning to their parents' homes in the Emirates to save for an uncertain future.

Dubai, 12th February 2010.  (Left to right) Saba Zaidi, Meher Zaidi and Haroon Zaidi at their residence.  (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National)

Meher Zaidi heads out to work every morning at 8:30, driving her Audi TT to Proctor & Gamble's headquarters in the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, where she works as an assistant brand manager for Oral B toothbrushes. The 22-year-old Pakistani handles everything from developing a public relations campaign to analysing sales and shipments. After her day at the office, she often heads to the gym, and usually arrives home between 7:30 and 8:30 at night. She then sits down to have dinner with her parents. Returning to Dubai to live at home after graduation wasn't Ms Zaidi's original plan, but it was the best option at the time. A year before she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, in May 2009, she started looking for a job in the US. But the recession had other plans for her. "Every semester there's a career expo," Ms Zaidi says. "In my last year of college, when the recession really hit, the number of companies that visited campus went down by about half. Out of the jobs available, the pool for international students shrunk much more than the number of jobs shrunk. All of a sudden, no one was willing to hire international students, especially for marketing, which isn't a specialised field." Luckily, Ms Zaidi ? who grew up in Dubai and whose parents have lived in the emirate for 30 years ? had a "Plan B". She had completed an internship with Procter & Gamble in Dubai the previous summer, and the company offered her a fulltime position that she could take up the following year if it was still available. Rather than staying in the US and continue looking for a job, she decided to accept the offer and come back. Ms Zaidi is one of the growing number of people in their twenties who have studied abroad but chose, often for reasons economic, to return home to the UAE to enter the employment pool. With the recession making jobs in the West scarce, many young graduates feel they have a better chance of finding employment in the Middle East. Once they decide to return, living at home with their parents is often an obvious choice. In many cases, such as Ms Zaidi's, parents are happy for their children to live at home and spend time with them. "It's good to have her around," says Haroon Zaidi, Ms Zaidi's father, the owner of a construction hardware business in Dubai. "In our culture, most parents want their kids to come back, since they tend to be protective and family-oriented." Ultimately, this welcoming attitude is an advantage for young adults, who are able to enjoy the comforts of home while saving money on rent, food and other living expenses. "The cost of living is very high. Thirty percent of a person's salary typically goes toward rent," says Aadil Kadri, a financial advisor at Continental Financial Services in Dubai. "Young people who come back to live with their parents can save to a great extent.

"As well as that, they get the peace of mind that they are home. You always feel secure when you are with your parents." The trend of graduates moving back home after completing university is not confined to the UAE. Worldwide, high unemployment rates, housing costs and student debt loads have forced an increasing number of young professionals to return to their childhood bedrooms and homes. In the UK, nearly one in five university graduates in their late twenties live with their parents, compared to one in eight 20 years ago, according to an Office for National Statistics report released in December 2009.

And in the US, 80 per cent of 2009 graduates moved back home compared to 67 per cent in 2006, according a poll by CollegeGrad.com, a leading entry-level job website. Since returning to the UAE and starting work at P&G, Ms Zaidi has managed to save about 80 per cent of her income. She says the money will come in handy for rent and living expenses if she begins work on a master's degree, which she is considering doing some time within the next few years. Her parents have told her they would cover her tuition expenses.

At the moment, she saves approximately Dh10,000 a month while spending Dh1,500 a month on petrol, her phone bill, and socializing. Had she opted to live on her own, she would have paid about Dh4,000 per month for an apartment in Dubai. And if she had continued to live in Austin, Texas - where she shared an apartment with another girl - she would have been paying US$650 in rent per month (Dh2,400) and about US$800 (Dh2,900) on food, going out and other living expenses (a total of Dh5,300 a month). Living with her parents in Dubai lets her save about Dh3,800 over those expense scenarios - or Dh45,600 a year.

In addition to allowing them to save money for the future, living at home gives young professionals the freedom to take jobs they are interested in rather than accepting the first offer that comes their way, Mr Kadri says. Female expatriate graduates, however, have an advantage over their male counterparts in this area, as they face no legal time pressures to find a job in the Emirates. According to UAE law, expatriate families can sponsor a female above the age of 18 for a residence visa until she is married, at which point her husband can sponsor her. This law does not apply to men above the age of 18, who can stay in the UAE only with an employment visa, a study visa or a visitor's visa.

Regardless of gender, there are other employment-related advantages to living at home for young professionals. For example, Mr Kadri says they are able to take jobs that might come with more risk but eventually give them a bigger long-term payoff. "If someone is alone, they will likely not take a commission-based job, even if there is the potential to make more money, because they need a guaranteed salary. But if they can live with their family they can afford to take the risk."

Another benefit of living at home is that parents are often able to help their children find jobs through their friends and acquaintances, Mr Kadri adds. And parents benefit once their children begin earning, because they can contribute toward rent and other expenses. "It's a win-win situation for parents and children if they are both working together," he says. That was certainly the case for 22-year-old Abhishek Shah and his parents. The Indian national, who graduated from the University of Warwick in the UK with an undergraduate and master's degree in civil engineering and business management in June 2009, returned to live at home in Dubai and started working at RSA Logistics, his father's shipping company.

Although after graduation Mr Shah wanted to work in the UK or Singapore ? where he interned for several months in the summer of 2009 ? he was unable to land the job of his choice because of the recession and government policies that favour hiring local graduates. "It made sense to come back and work for my dad, which I had planned to do in a few years time anyway. The company started last year, in March, and it could use an extra pair of hands and someone educated about the industry. And it would be at pretty much no cost," says Mr Shah.

As an operations executive for the company, he earns Dh2,000 per month. Since he doesn't have to pay for expenses such as rent or food, and he's helping the family business, he is happy to work for a small monthly stipend, most of which goes towards his phone bill, shopping or going out. He says he saves about 30 per cent of his salary a month. Although he has become accustomed to being back under his parents' roof, Mr Shah says the arrangement is a lot different from his four years of independent college life.

"It was quite a shock initially to be asked five or six questions every time I went out," Mr Shah says. "I love to go out and party, and I like to drink a bit. The problem is, over here I'm with my family almost 24 hours a day; I go to work with my family and come home to my family, so those kind of things have to be cut down." Rahul Grover, a 23-year-old Indian-British expatriate who works from home in Dubai for Sidy, a property management firm, agrees that some compromises have to be made. "It's not the same as when you're by yourself or with your friends.

"You don't do all those things you would do at university that you want to do, like throwing parties or having people come over whenever they want," says Mr Grover, who graduated from Bristol University in the UK in June 2008. However, he says the advantages of living at home outweigh the disadvantages. "Dubai offers a cushy lifestyle," Mr Grover explains. "It's very different from when I had to do my own laundry and cooking in the UK. Most people have maids here, and then your parents do stuff for you."

Mr Grover says he also enjoys having his own bedroom, which is four times larger than any room he had while living in the UK. Most important, he says, is being able to spend quality time with his parents and five cousins who live in Dubai, one of the reasons he decided to move back. Saving money, of course, was also a factor in his decision. "The original plan was to stay in the UK, do some work and earn some money. But I thought it just made more sense to come home because rent is free, food is free and there are no taxes," says Mr Grover, who returned to the UAE in September 2008.

"This way, I could save my money for travel once I started a job." After working for a few months at a property management company and an engineering firm in Dubai, Mr Grover had enough money in his bank account - about Dh35,000 - to travel for six months. With the money he had earned, as well as an additional Dh8,600 his father pitched in to help him after he was mugged during his trip, Mr Grover worked as a volunteer for five weeks with an international programme running schools and building stoves for indigenous families in a village outside Guatemala and then backpacked across South America, visiting 11 countries along the way.

If Mr Grover had stayed in the UK, taking this trip may not have been financially feasible. He would have been paying about £500 (Dh2,900) per month on rent and utilities, as well as £600 (Dh3,500) a month on food, socialising, his internet and phone bill, and other costs. In Dubai, he spends about Dh2,500 a month, which covers his socialising, phone bill and gym membership. Compared to living on his own in the UK, he is able to save an extra Dh3,900 a month, or Dh46,800 a year.

Mr Grover says he has no specific goals in mind for his savings, but says they wil come in handy beginning in May, when he begins a five-year contract as a project engineer in West Africa. Another expat, Zoe Cunningham, a 24-year-old originally from England who lives with her parents in Dubai, doesn't plan to leave the country, but does eventually want to move out of her parents' house. And she says the money she is saving now will help her do that.

"It's really expensive here to move out and find a place somewhere decent in a good location. I'm in Umm Suqeim now, and it's just so perfect in terms of the location and the space," says Ms Cunningham, who works as in business development at a distributing company called Level One. Although she doesn't mind living at home and says her parents impose no rules on her, Ms Cunningham says she may move out in a year or two.

"I'll be 25 in a year, and living at home sounds so wrong, so I don't know. My mum just says, 'you stay with us as long as you want.' Parents want to have you there." Ms Cunningham says moving back home in the summer of 2008 after graduating from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK was a personal choice. "I wanted to relax for a bit and take time off. I knew I didn't want to stay in England, because I was sort of sick of it. I wanted to come home."

Living with her her parents has afforded Ms Cunningham the luxury of taking a break. For about a year after returing to Dubai she did part-time work in promotions and other areas, and started working full-time in September 2009, when the right opportunity presented itself. Ms Cunningham says she loves her job, and is able to save a few thousand dirhams every month. "It depends on how much I shop every month. That is my vice. Clothes, shoes, accessories, makeup ? you name it, I'll buy it."