The UAE's updated visa programme will contribute to a more stable Middle East

Even as uncertainty grows elsewhere in the region, residents of the Emirates can make long-term investments and plant solid roots

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the luxury Burj al-Arab Hotel at Jumeirah area in Dubai, UAE December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Karim Sahib/Pool/File Photo
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This week the UAE announced an expansion to its visa and residency system. The net result of this move is likely to be that more skilled people will come to the Emirates and those already living and working here will stay longer than they might have before.

The changes build on a trend in recent years, and the acceleration of such policies demonstrates a desire to make the country as attractive as possible to as many people as possible.

Approved by the Cabinet on Monday, the changes include longer visit visas and greater access to the 10-year golden visa scheme. Five-year green visas will be available to more people, including mid-career professionals. New rules also allow some to sponsor male children until the age of 25. A jobseeker visa will also be introduced.

The green and golden visas allow a resident to remain in the country regardless of employment status, which enhances the amount of talent available domestically at all times.

The 10-year residency permits, for example, are given to people who have made an outstanding contribution to the country, or have highly prized skills or work in key industries that are crucial to economic growth.

This deepens and greatly increases diversity in the job market.

Golden visas were first approved in late 2020 and in the first year, 44,000 visas were issued in Dubai alone. Thousands more have likely been issued across the Emirates since and these levels will also likely rise going forward.

“If you look at the thought process [behind this], it's very clear: ‘We want talent to come in to progress the UAE further’,” Haider Hussain, from immigration experts Fragomen, told The National’s Business Extra podcast. “[For that] There needs to be proper pathways, these particular changes make it happen for people to come in.”

Monday’s announcement increases the number of those pathways.

It also comes only weeks after the end of Expo 2020 Dubai, continuing the atmosphere of openness that was evident during the six months the world fair was on.

The UAE has residents hailing from nearly every country in the world. Andrew Parsons  /  The National

These changes will add to the competitive landscape for those looking to start or scale businesses in the country.

The UAE already takes a large share of total funding for start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa. Overall, $864 million was secured in the first quarter of this year, more than double the figure from a year earlier, providing strong evidence of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from data platform Magnitt.

Start-ups in the UAE accounted for 27.3 per cent of all deals and 34.4 per cent of all funding raised, to date in 2022.

Green and golden visas allow a resident to remain in the country regardless of employment status, which enhances the amount of talent available domestically

Last year, UAE start-ups accounted for 26 per cent of all deals closed across the region and 45 per cent of all funding raised in 2021, Magnitt said.

Dubai also accounts for 57 per cent of scale-up funding in the Mena region, said the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy. The UAE is the preferred destination for companies looking to grow, it said.

The economy, particularly manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade sectors, have rebounded well as Covid-19 restrictions were eased in the country. The UAE’s was the fastest-expanding economy in the region in the final three months of 2021.

Retaining and attracting talent, while always important, has perhaps become even more of a differentiator for success than the deployment of capital, as knowledge economies develop.

The UAE has been a haven for much of its 50 years. It will likely to continue to be in both the near and the long term.

Given how the wider region around the UAE is experiencing fresh ups and downs, the inclusive nature of the UAE’s residency and visa rules is more important than ever.

While, for example, hope is growing for a political solution in Yemen, which would bolster stability in the Gulf, and the prospects of a new nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain alive, there has been fresh instability elsewhere. The storming of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Israeli police, combined with violence in the West Bank and the growing threat of a fresh conflict in Gaza, has unsettled many in the Middle East. A Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq against Kurdish militants and the political impasse in Baghdad over the formation of a new government undermine recent efforts to create a more stable Iraq.

In North Africa, internationally backed efforts to find a way forward on Libya’s future seem to have stalled and at this point we can only trust that in Lebanon the IMF can help put the country back on a path that will help resolve its economic crisis.

Oil prices are high amid inflation fears and an energy supply crunch. This scenario has two sides, bringing in more income for producers but impacting consumers. If all these factors persist together, world economic growth will dampen next year, the IMF forecasts.

With so much going on, all against the global backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, it is crucial to keep focus on the future. The UAE is doing much to keep the pathways to opportunity open in an uncertain world.

Published: April 21, 2022, 2:00 PM