Potential ‘mass exodus’ of expats from UAE, expert says

Uncertainty in the jobs market and a rising cost of living are making many consider whether they are still better off living in the UAE, experts say.

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Experts said the cost of living and an uncertain jobs market were putting people in a situation where they could no longer afford to live in the UAE.

Trefor Murphy, managing ­director of the Mena division for Morgan McKinley, a recruitment consultancy, said he had heard “a lot of chatter” that the fallout from the oil price slump spelt the end for many an expat adventure. “It is rumourville,” he said. “I have heard all the talk about a mass exodus.”

Without countrywide statistics, Mr Murphy said it was hard to paint a true picture of how many people were leaving. However, he said, it was also indisputable that residents in certain fields were facing job uncertainties and having to consider leaving because of the instability in their industry.

“Starting with oil and gas, then banking and financial services, in general, recruitment has seen bit of a dive,” he said.

“If you lose a job in these sectors at the moment, it is more difficult to get new work.”

Mr Murphy said it was understandable some people were worried about education, housing and other costs of living and looking to leave.

“The factors that affect our ­decision to stay in a country that is not ours is always the opportunity of gaining something better or more quickly than you would back home,” he said.

“There is a lack of confidence that will continue to be the case in the short term.”

Studies by Morgan McKinley showed that employers were tightening their belts, with salaries stagnating and bonuses non-existent or barely notable.

“In our salary study for 2016, we thought salaries would remain flat or have a very, very nominal increase, but that was subject to oil maintaining a $50/$60 a barrel rate,” said Mr Murphy. “Of course, oil has done nothing but go way below our expectations, so when jobseekers contact us about potentially looking to come into the market, we now say to them: ‘Do not leave your job’.

“Even if you didn’t get a bonus or you feel slightly miffed about something, holding on to your job is ultimately very important at the moment.”

The downturn has changed attitudes, said Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of souqalmal.com, who sees UAE residents moving towards a “savings mindset”.

This is partly because they have to, as living costs increase, but she believed the main factor was because more people were more aware of the need to save.

“With the oil pricing being volatile lately, there is a sense of caution from residents,” she said. “On souqalmal.com, visits to the savings account section have more than doubled since last year.”

In a YouGov study into the saving habits of Emiratis and expats, carried out for The National last year, 50 per cent of employed expats polled said they would consider leaving the UAE because of a high cost of living.