Thousands of foreign investors and residents have been identified for a "golden card" permanent residency scheme, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced on Tuesday.
Sheikh Mohammed said the current investments of the 6,800 selected investors and residents are worth an estimated Dh100 billion.
The new permanent visa will generate foreign investment, encourage entrepreneurship, and attract top engineers, scientists and students.
Exact criteria for the visa are yet to be made public but more details are expected in the coming days.
Permanent residency will also be extended to the spouse and children of the cardholder.
"We launched today a permanent resident system named 'Golden Card' in the UAE," Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.
"It is a permanent residency for investors and for exceptional workers in the fields of health, engineering, science and art.
"Throughout history, the UAE opened its door to millions of people looking to pursue their dreams and better their lives.
"The Golden Card is our way to welcome all those seeking to be a part of the UAE’s success story and making it a second home."
Typically, foreign residents have renewable visas that are valid for two or three years and often tied to their employment. But last year the government announced plans to reform its visa policies.
It pledged to allow five and 10-year visas for sought-after professionals and academics and for long-term investors.
The permanent residency programme set out on Tuesday goes a step beyond this.
Many countries offer forms of permanent residency. Among them is the Green Card system in the US, issued to priority workers, relatives of residents and $1 million-plus (Dh3.6m) investors.
Portugal's Golden Visa is given to those investing in property, setting up a business or creating jobs.
"Gold Card permanent residence will be awarded to exceptional and talented individuals, and to whoever contributes positively to the UAE’s success story," Sheikh Mohammed said.
"We want those people to be permanent partners in our journey. All of the residents of the UAE are our brothers and part of our large family."
On Tuesday, the property industry said permanent residency would give a boost to developers and sellers.
Lewis Allsopp, chief executive of Allsopp & Allsopp, said the move was a "huge milestone for the UAE and for the property market".
"Over the past few years we have seen continual steps to enhance the property market and to add longevity to the UAE with five-year retirement visas, long-term visas and 10-year visas," Mr Allsopp said.
“The Gold Card will further the stability of the UAE by encouraging more distinguished professionals to the country.
"The property market will benefit hugely from this step in strengthening the economy.”
[ Where foreign investors can now buy freehold property in Abu Dhabi ]
Many residents have their eye on the short term and channel their money into property or savings schemes abroad.
In 2017 they remitted $45bn (Dh164.3bn) home, the state news agency Wam reports.
“Most expats have a money-making mindset when they move to Dubai, with a short-term plan and goal before moving back to their home country," Mr Allsopp said.
"The UAE Cabinet’s decision to enforce a Gold Card for permanent residency now allows expats to look at Dubai as a home, rather than a temporary plan.”
Senior business figures said lifelong residency would generate huge interest at home and abroad.
BR Shetty, a self-made billionaire and founder of the medical group NMC Health and financial technology start-up Finablr, said the move was more than just a new visa system.
"It is not just about a long-term visa but recognition that people who have lived here for a long time are interested in contributing to its success," Mr Shetty said.
"This is a Ramadan blessing, a golden gift to all those who have contributed positively in developing this great country.
"I am one of the beneficiaries of this country’s benevolence. I came here penniless 46 years ago on borrowed money and now I have two companies listed on the London Stock Exchange."
Surender Kandhari, an Indian industrialist who built a Sikh temple in Jebel Ali and an automotive business that spans Africa, Europe and the US, said the chance to settle in the UAE was recognition for those who, like his family, have lived in the Emirates for decades.
"I will definitely apply for this," said Mr Kandhari, chairman of the Al Dobowi Group, which makes tyres, batteries and rubber.
"It’s an encouragement to invest more in the country and to also give back even more by way of corporate social responsibility work.
"This is a great initiative for investors who have been here long term. It’s like some sort of security to remain. Our social activities will only increase when we know we will live here permanently.
"We already look after less fortunate people and we will serve the larger community even more if we live here permanently."
Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, founder of VPS Healthcare, which runs Burjeel Hospital and other clinics, said the move was an "acceptance of the fact that we are doing something for this country".
"It means a lot," Dr Vayalil said. "There's a feeling inside when you hear Sheikh Mohammed say that residents are considered brothers and part of a great family".