A Federal National Council member has called on the UAE government to step up efforts to encourage more Emirati couples to marry.
Hamad Al Rahoumi, who represents Dubai, said the authorities should provide more financial support to stop national men and women being priced out of tying the knot.
Mr Al Rahoumi suggested prospective partners could even be matched online to bolster the number of Emirati weddings, as societal changes make it harder for people to strike up relationships.
The most recent figures available, from 2017, revealed of the 15,150 marriages registered across the country, 2,598 were Emiratis marrying expatriates.
That is a drop from 2014 when about a quarter of all Emirati marriages were mixed.
“I think that efforts should be made to encourage Emirati men to marry local women and I support all the initiatives that do so,” said Mr Al Rahoumi.
“It is always preferable to marry a women from the same nationality with the same beliefs, traditions and values as the language, religion and cultural differences can affect the next generation.”
Mr Al Rahoumi said finding a partner for life was easier many years ago, when communities were more closely linked.
“In the old days, people who used to live in the same area were more connected then now. They were more social with stronger family ties," he said.
“In the past, people used to know each other better and the mother used to recommend a number of brides to her son due to the strong social ties. But now many men don't have this privilege.
“So they find it easier to meet and marry non-Emirati women at work or university.”
Another factor is the high costs of Emirati marriage expenses.
“We suggested to increase the Dh70,000 marriage grant amount in order to encourage Emirati men to marry Emirati women as the current amount is not tempting enough and doesn’t cover all the expenses," he said.
“We also suggested that the government creates a website that can introduce Emirati couples to each other in a safe and controlled environment and under the supervision of the authorities.
“The website will help in matching Emirati couples from around the country, according to their preferences and requirements.”
The UAE government has taken generous steps to encourage Emirati marriages and there at least two separate wedding funds.
The Form an Emirati Family (FEF) Initiative, launched by the Ministry of Community Development (MCD) and Al Ihsan Charity Association in November, agreed to distribute Dh1,540,000 to help to fund 44 Emirati weddings - about Dh35,000 each.
A total of 20 Emirati have already married with the help of the scheme.
"We need to encourage and help Emirati men to marry Emirati women and this is one of the main objectives of the initiative," said Muna Al Zaabi, assistant undersecretary of support services at the MCD.
“We also aim to achieve family stability with low financial burdens through covering wedding expenses and helping people form a family,” she said.
The initiative sponsors all individual weddings for UAE nationals who are not eligible for the MCD's existing Dh70,000 marriage grant, which was set up by Sheikh Zayed in 1992. It was issued partly in response to concerns about the cost of weddings and associated debt.
A 2017 documentary by Zayed University researchers estimated that on average an Emirati wedding costs at least Dh683,000.
To apply for the marriage grant, both spouses must be UAE citizens, with the husband no younger than 21, and the wife no younger than 18 years. The basic monthly salary of each of the spouses must not exceed Dh25,000.
Spouses who earn between Dh25,000 and Dh40,000, after the deduction of housing and retirement payments, can apply for FEF, in which the wedding party is arranged and paid for by organisers.
Abdulaziz Humaid, 32, from Kalba, said he could not have dreamed of getting married without the assistance of FEF.
“It would have taking me another two to three years to start planning for the wedding,” he said.
Mr Humaid got married in April this year, less than three weeks after submitting his documentation.
“They took care of almost everything related to the wedding, hall booking, decorations, food and they even provided me with a new bisht cloak to wear at the wedding.
“It would have cost me Dh100,000 to Dh150,000 to throw a wedding party like the one they arranged and we are very grateful for all their efforts and support.”
Another beneficiary said that he was out of the country when one of his relatives shared with him the initiative details.
"We got engaged in November 2018 and didn't specify the wedding date due to some financial issues," said Ali Al Baloushi, a 39-year-old Emirati from Kalba, on Sharjah's east coast, who serves in the armed forces.
“When a relative shared on WhatsApp the details of the initiative, I decided to contact them once I returned to the country,” he said.
Mr Al Baloushi was married in March 2019, shortly after he submitted an application.
“The process was smooth and the wedding was well organised and everyone was happy," he said.
“Cost of living is increasing every year and forming a family is not easy, therefore, we encourage the government to keep launching similar initiatives that can help many people like me.”
The initiative covers the wedding hall fees, decorations, food expenses for 400 people and a one-night stay at Emirates Palace.