Can foreign residents truly call the UAE home? I’ve found that I can

How one immigration officer's DXB greeting had me pondering home and where it is

Airline travelers wait to clear immigration control at the Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates on August 25, 2016. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Last week, I touched down at Dubai airport after a long weekend away and, as I passed though immigration, I was greeted with a "welcome home" by a friendly immigration officer.

There aren’t very many things that can put a smile on my face at 3.30am when I’m faced with an alarm to wake me up for work in three-and-a-half short hours and the prospect of that terminal three taxi queue*, but that greeting really did. I’m not sure if this is a new airport-wide rule ­dictating that all immigration ­officers should welcome travellers bearing UAE visas with a chirpy new ­slogan, or if I was simply lucky to have crossed paths with one particularly friendly man on a DXB night shift. I can ­report back on that after my next flight.

Regardless, it made me leave the airport with a spring in my step, a lightness that even a long wait for my bag (why did I check a bag in for a mini-break?) couldn’t dampen. I have long felt at home here, but I ­appreciated the third-party ­confirmation that, despite not being born here, grown up here nor having studied here, I am at home here.

It's a bit of a cliche, but DXB has ­become a real happy place for me in the last few years. There is the obvious fact that it is the starting point for the majority of my most ­anticipated adventures, trips that I have spent months planning and saving for. But it's also become a place that I love coming back to when the holiday is over. Even the wallop of humidity when you land in middle of the night and first step off the plane into the summer's heat has a (very) warm reassurance.

The question of home is an interesting one. Am I allowed to have two? I have written in the past about the fact that living in Dubai isn’t a quick stop for me; I never came here saying it was for six months, one year or two. There have been no deadlines nor “escape plans”. And, at the risk of sounding like someone forcing herself to see sunshine in a rainstorm, or someone who has sipped every last drop of the Kool Aid, I even like summer in the UAE. For the quieter roads alone, you have to agree with me on that one.

As the UAE starts offering more permanent solutions for residents, with golden long-term residency and retirement visas, staying put could be easier in the future. But as it currently stands, for the vast majority of people, ­myself included, it’s not a permanent option.

When reflecting on whether or not the UAE is home, that is the most ­common point people raise: we can’t stay here forever. We need someone to sponsor us to ensure we can stay in the country long-term.

It means that the vast majority of residents will eventually leave the UAE, moving on to another country or back “home”, wherever that may be. The question of home has taken on further significance in the last week, when a handful of my friends have lost their jobs in the UAE across a number of industries. It’s raised the question of whether or not they want to, or can, stay in the country. By and large, they love it here and enjoy their life in Dubai, but without a 9 to 5, staying here isn’t a viable option.

Of course, people can invest in ­themselves, start their own company or obtain freelance visas, but that requires capital. So in the same week that they lose their jobs, they also face the prospect of losing the place they call “home”.

Home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. But by its very definition, it’s “the place where one lives permanently”, our house. I much prefer the definition most typically applied to flora and fauna: “A place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates.”

By that definition, I do get my two homes. I get the UAE, as it is where I’m most typically found – I am here about 330 days a year, in fact. And I originate from the UK. I’ll get back to you on where I flourish.

*For the record, the taxi queue was short and sweet that night too.