Lina Hariri believes her retirement dreams could be less distant now that new work permit rules allow her husband to be employed on her visa for the first time.
The prospect of banking two incomes will boost pension savings and improve daily life, say the couple, who live in Dubailand.
Ms Hariri, 50, launched her own company, AskHR Consultancy Services, in January after being made redundant from a regional HR manager job.
She’s since been sponsoring husband Omar, 62, who has been unable to find a position. Revised rules, issued last month by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, however, mean he’ll be able to seek employment while still on her visa.
“It's been tough for us living on just my income," says Ms Hariri, a German raised in Dubai who returned 18 months ago to work in the Emirates after 20 years in the UK.
“When I had a permanent job it wasn’t so bad, but since I have had my own business money has been tight. Clients are hard to come by and don't always pay on time.”
Until last month, the process for a woman sponsoring a husband in the UAE was easier if she was employed as a teacher, lawyer, engineer or in the medical profession. For other occupations, there was a general requirement to earn at least Dh10,000 a month.
Even then, visas were issued on condition the husband did not work - unless it was a job that provided him with a visa.
The new rules mean male relatives sponsored by female professionals in the family are eligible for work permits, allowing companies to hire men sponsored by their family or wife. Sons currently on visas sponsored by parents – including school leavers or graduates – are among the main beneficiaries, as are husbands sponsored by wives, or older fathers living with their adult children.
Until now, only women - typically wives and daughters sponsored by a spouse or parent - were eligible for a work permit, also known as a labour card.
Briton Mr Hariri, who had a career in banking and accounts, says he struggled to find a role when he moved to the Emirates with his wife. “At first I tried to find a job, but it proved difficult," he says. "I then decided to semi-retire. Now, with the changes, I could potentially find a job or have my own consultancy business. It will make a difference to us and our finances. Dubai is not cheap and we also want to top up our pension.”
The couple, who don't have children, say a higher income could allow them to remain in Dubai longer and plan a better retirement.
Mr Hariri recognises the benefits of the new rules for both individuals and employers.
“Sometimes it is difficult finding a job when first coming to Dubai, as the labour market is challenging. If at first the wife can sponsor her husband and the husband can find a job later, this is very beneficial and will reduce stress," he says. "Being able to work while under your wife’s sponsorship could open up job opportunities in companies that don’t want the expense of taking staff onto their own visa.”
When Dubai resident Jane was headhunted for a role in the UAE, she and her AutoCAD design engineer husband Peter, who asked for their names to be changed, were unaware he would not be eligible to work.
That was last October. Now living in The Springs, Jane, 43, who works in localisation in Media City, says her husband Peter found it tough quitting his UK job to accompany her.
“He is finding the days long at the moment," she says. "He would like to be working to keep his skill-set up-to-date and help keep him active.
“We are fortunate in that my salary is sufficient for us both. However, for some people two salaries would be a necessity and would have meant many potential moves here were not feasible.”
Peter, 44, has been happy to support his wife’s career move, as head of global sales and account management.
But the couple, also without children, now plan to pursue sponsorship for him via his wife after the summer, to allow him to return to employment on part-time/short-term contracts.
"Much as I enjoy being a house husband, I am looking to take an active part in the working world here,” says Peter, who has been doing monthly ‘border runs’ since arriving. “I am proud of my wife and all she does … [but] I'm looking forward to bringing in my share to the household. This is a significant step forward and one we will be making the most of.”
The Labour Ministry says the change will make it cheaper for businesses to recruit staff as work permits cost them less than visas. The revised fee for a two-year work permit for a skilled or limited skilled worker is Dh300, paid by the company.
Giorgio Christian, managing director of Better Floors Carpentry, expects his Dubai Investment Park-based company to benefit as it grows with Expo 2020 contracts.
“This will allow me to engage with more talent from the local market, as we are expanding operations with Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” says Mr Christian, who employs a multinational workforce of 37.
“This [change] will bring additional security to business owners during the probation period, allow us to greatly reduce cost factors, as well as allowing him [the worker] a safety net.”
Mr Christian, 36, also believes broader permit availability could in some cases allow families to remain together in one country and ultimately promote greater community assimilation.
The permit move has come too late for some, however.
Jon, who asked for his name to be changed, recently returned to Europe with his family after nearly three years in Dubai where he was unable to officially work on his wife's visa. He believes his qualifications should have placed him in an "easy" position for work, at reduced cost to potential employers.
“I’m qualified as a researcher in public health and hospital computer systems and data security," says the 45-year-old. “It was a missed opportunity for many companies to be able to consider my presence as a positive.”
Jon instead found work teaching swimming classes while his wife, also 45, was process improvement manager for a large food company. The couple lived in Satwa in Dubai with 11-year-old twins.
“As I was really ‘working illegally’ I was open to all sorts of bad things [such as] being unable to report my employer for not paying my salary for fear that I would get fined.
“This clearly had an effect on my family situation and our eventual decision to depart when my wife was offered a new position,” says Jon from his new home in France, where he intends to qualify as a Triathlon coach.
Increasingly, wives are in the career driving seat and being offered life-changing roles abroad, so the new labour card rules could prove a deal-breaker for others deliberating a UAE move.
“This new rule reflects a change in the working world and will enable many more to make the move," adds Jane, who says the couple is contemplating extending their tenure in the Emirates. “The flexibility is a massive bonus and this will give so many people more choices. This is a good thing.”