New laws could help foreign residents put down roots

Inclusivity is the key to diversifying the economy

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Abu Dhabi skyline is seen, December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
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There are more than 1.2 million foreign workers living in Abu Dhabi, forming the bulk of the population. They work in all sectors, across numerous industries, but what they all have in common is one pressing question, which persists in lingering in the background of their time in the UAE: how long will they stay?

Traditionally, even for those who have spent their working life in the UAE, retirement usually means moving elsewhere. That could be all set to change. Abu Dhabi's Executive Council and the UAE Cabinet is poised to decide a number of amendments to the current residency laws within weeks. Although the changes under consideration have not been formally announced, they may affect residency regulations for retirees, longer residency visas beyond the current three years and extended student visas.

The revamped law will have a huge impact on the demographics of the emirate, both in the short and longer term. It will act as an incentive to bring in more business owners tempted by the opportunity to retain 100 per cent ownership of their firms, something which is currently restricted to freezones. More benefits for residents means there will be more impetus to stay longer and that means investing in other ways – whether by buying property, putting down roots or forming an emotional attachment. As things stand, those roots can never go particularly deep when one knows a date of departure is looming, however far away it might be. The possibility of living out your days in the place many regard as home will be an attractive one to many and could put paid to the feeling of transience that tends to accompany an overseas posting.

The UAE Ministry of Economy is already working on an investment law that will allow 100 per cent foreign equity ownership in certain sectors. The revisions underway mark a maturing and diversification of the economy away from the oil sector and into one where foreign residents might eventually see themselves forming more deep-rooted ties and staying longer. It follows the announcement that UAE residents will be able to represent the Emirates in all official sports from September. That is further testament to the nation's founding principles of tolerance and inclusivity. The new laws will no doubt consolidate that sense of multiculturalism.