Non-Emiratis can obtain Emirati citizenship for the first time in a new process set out by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid on Saturday.
Legal changes also mean a person can retain their original nationality, allowing them to become dual citizens. Citizenship is difficult to obtain in the Gulf and is not traditionally offered to foreigners.
The new rules do not provide people with a path to apply for citizenship.
Instead, skilled professionals would be nominated by government or royal court officials. This includes the Cabinet, the executive council of each of the seven emirates, the rulers’ courts, or their crown princes.
The government has yet to set out how nominees would be identified.
People eligible for nomination include investors, individuals with specialist professions – such as doctors or scientists – as well as artists and other "talented" or "creative" people.
The changes to the law also allows the families – the spouse and children – of those eligible to receive citizenship. Family members may also retain their current nationality.
The UAE Cabinet brought in the change following an order from President Sheikh Khalifa, with the aim of attracting and retaining intelligent, specialist individuals, who would enrich UAE society and help progress the country's development.
“We adopted law amendments that allow granting the UAE citizenship to investors, specialised talents & professionals including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors and their families,” Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said on Saturday.
“The new directives aim to attract talents that contribute to our development journey.
“The UAE cabinet, local Emiri courts & executive councils will nominate those eligible for the citizenship under clear criteria set for each category. The law allows receivers of the UAE passport to keep their existing citizenship.”
The decision is part of a wider move from the government to retain exceptional workers and foreign investors, allowing people to establish deeper roots in the country and the nation to benefit from their expertise.
Who is eligible for Emirati citizenship?
Saturday’s changes in law outlined several different categories of eligible residents. Each category has different conditions.
Investors must own property in the UAE.
Doctors and specialists must be specialists in a unique scientific field or one that is deemed high-priority by the Emirates. The individual must have made important contributions or conducted significant studies and research. They also must have no less than 10 years' experience in addition to membership to prestigious groups and organisations in their field.
Scientists must be active researchers at a university or a private researcher centre. They must have a minimum of 10 years' experience and must have made contributions to their field by attaining an international award or research grant. To be eligible for citizenship, they must also be recommended by internationally recognised bodies.
Talented people must have patented inventions registered by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce or any internationally recognised organisation. They should also submit a letter of recommendation from the ministry.
Intellectuals, artists and creatives must have one or more international awards in their field and a recommendation letter from the government institution of their field.
What else needs to be done to receive citizenship?
In case of qualifying, and before acquiring the citizenship, the individual must swear the oath of allegiance. The naturalised individual must comply with Emirati laws and inform the respective government agency in case they acquire or lose another citizenship, a UAE Government statement read.
The UAE citizenship offers a wide range of benefits, including the right to establish or own commercial entities and properties, in addition to any other benefits granted by federal authorities after the approval of the Cabinet or local authorities.
The citizenship can be withdrawn on breach of these conditions.
What has changed?
Previously, citizenship was generally only granted to wives of Emiratis, children of Emirati fathers and long-standing citizens holding a presidential decree. The children of Emirati mothers, married to non-Emiratis, are not automatically granted citizenship but must apply instead. The process of naturalising the children of Emirati mothers can sometimes take years.
How else can you stay in the UAE long-term?
In May 2019, Sheikh Mohammed announced the launch of a golden card visa scheme – a long-term residency programme that extended to the spouse and children of the cardholder. A long list of people are deemed eligible for the 10-year visa, including medical doctors, scientists and data experts, among many others. High-scoring pupils who leave high school with top marks will also be eligible – as will their families.
The visa offers 10-year residency on a renewable basis. As long as the recipient continues to meet the conditions of the visa, they can renew for a further 10 years when it is due to expire. Typically, foreign workers must renew their work visa every two to three years.
Dubai announced a retirement visa programme that allows residents to retire in the emirate, as of September last year. The five-year retirement visa allows Dubai residents older than 55 to live in the emirate, provided they meet certain criteria. Applicants must have valid UAE health insurance and satisfy one of these three requirements: earn a monthly income of Dh20,000; have Dh1 million in cash savings; or own Dh2m worth of property in Dubai.
Remote working visa:
Last year, Dubai also launched a remote-working programme that allows professionals to live in the emirate while being employed overseas. The aim was to encourage employees around the world to relocate to Dubai and benefit from all the services permanent residents of the emirate enjoy. This includes phone and internet, utilities, schooling and tax-free salaries.
Which other Gulf countries offer citizenship?
In late 2019, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to foreigners in fields, such as medicine and technology, to diversify the kingdom's economy.
The changes were part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and social reform plans to steer the economy away from its reliance on oil.
The kingdom said it aimed to attract “scientists, intellectuals and innovators from around the world, to enable the kingdom to become a diverse hub that the Arab world would be proud of”.
Experts in forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, oil and gas and artificial intelligence were included as under consideration.
People involved in arts, sports and culture were also eligible to “contribute and support the enhancement of Saudi competencies and knowledge that will benefit the general public”.