An Indian jewellery tycoon is the latest person to be granted permanent residency in the UAE.
Firoz Merchant, a self-made millionaire and founder of jewellery business Pure Gold, got a telephone call a few days ago informing him of the decision.
From a humble background in Mumbai, Mr Merchant went on to build a billion-dirham company that employs thousands of people worldwide.
The permanent residency status - known as the Golden Card - has also been granted to his wife, two children and extended family.
"We cannot describe the feeling," Mr Merchant, 61, told The National on Sunday.
“It is thrilling and a huge privilege. This is my home country now. We are honoured and proud.”
It is a remarkable journey for Mr Merchant, who first visited Dubai in 1980 on his honeymoon. More than three decades on, he still remembers being enthralled by the lavish displays in the labyrinthine gold souq. “There were stores full of gold and everything was secure. I thought: why not go into the gold business?”
Nine years later, he moved permanently from India to follow this dream. He was just 31 at the time and started off buying and selling gold bars for a small commission.
“On my first day I sold two pieces and earned Dh10.”
The Dubai of the 1980s is long gone: it was a world centred around the Creek, of vast empty patches of sand and of film nights at the Stand Cinema in Bur Dubai. But the pro-business environment inculcated by the then Ruler, Sheikh Rashid, allowed entrepreneurs such as Mr Merchant to prosper. And what followed was years of hard work, building trust and reputation in a gold market where credibility was a currency.
“You must have ethics, a long-term business plan and respect the law of the land,” said Mr Merchant. “If you don’t have good intentions, then your company won’t last.”
Mr Merchant is also known for his philanthropy and over the years has spent huge sums paying off the debts of prisoners here. They are workers from mainly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have fallen on hard times. It was the global financial crisis of 2008 that really drew his attention to the crisis of those languishing in prisons with no way out.
“When you can help, you must help,” he said. “Many have found themselves struggling with debts or visa issues.”
Thousands of prisoners have been released through his generosity and many have personally thanked Mr Merchant for giving them a second chance in life. “Some call you and say thank you - I’m now united with my family, united with my parents, wife and some have even asked if I can come to their wedding. They say: ‘what I am is because of you’.”
The permanent residency programme was announced last month by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, for certain investors and residents.
The first was issued last week to Indian retail king, Yusuff Ali. The chairman and managing director of Lulu Group described it as a “true high point” of his life. Mr Ali was the first of 6,800 investors to be granted permanent residency.
Now Mr Merchant is another one of the lucky few who have received the honour. And he has this advice for any budding entrepreneurs.
“Be loyal, follow the law of the land and keep your vision. Focus, avoid controversy everything will be smooth,” he said.
“I had a dream when I first landed in the UAE and my dream came through today.”