Why the UAE's golden visa is a game-changer for skilled workers

Exceptional talents are increasingly being offered bigger sign-on bonuses, unlimited leave and the option to work from anywhere

Employers in the UAE are increasingly offering golden visas, among other incentives, to attract senior talent and retain existing employees. Getty
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Kuldip Lakhani, an Indian information technology professional in Abu Dhabi, received the UAE’s golden visa under the talent category after nominating himself.

Better stability of residency and freedom of career path are two of the major reasons that prompted me to apply for the golden visa,” says Mr Lakhani, 36, who has been working in the technology industry for the past 15 years.

He switched to the self-sponsored residence permit, from the company-sponsored visa.

In a move to attract, retain and reward exceptional talent from the technology sector and other industries, the Emirates introduced the Golden Visa programme in 2019.

The visas are valid for up to 10 years and are intended to encourage exceptional workers and foreign investors to establish deeper roots in the country.

Among those eligible are investors, entrepreneurs, high-achieving students, people with special talent and researchers in various fields of science and knowledge.

Frontline medical workers and celebrities ranging from Giorgio Armani to Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan have also been recipients of the golden visa.

Bahrain also approved a 10-year golden visa programme for selected foreigners this year as it seeks to attract talent amid an economic recovery.

Mr Lakhani, who applied under the “specialists in engineering and science” segment of the talent category, says the golden visa gives a person the chance to sponsor themself, putting them in a better position with their employer.

“Being in the technology field, it adds to the convenience of working remotely and travelling back and forth to the UAE as required. It is also more convenient since you don’t have to renew your visa for the next 10 years.”

After nominating himself and receiving approval, he applied for the golden visa through an Amer Centre in Dubai.

Who is eligible for a UAE Golden Visa under new rules?

Who is eligible for a UAE Golden Visa under new rules?

The entire process cost about Dh6,000. However, it varies depending on an applicant’s specialisation and education, Mr Lakhani says.

The breakdown includes Dh2,790 for residency fees, Dh1,070 for an Emirates ID, Dh300 for a medical test and about Dh1,500 to validate education documents, cancel the previous visa and pay other miscellaneous costs at a typing centre.

The nomination and visa process took about two to three months.

“The application and approval for visa was swift once the nomination was approved,” Mr Lakhani says. “It took about seven to 10 days, including visa application, approval, medical, cancellation of previous visa, golden visa stamping, and issuing the new Emirates ID.”

Employers in the UAE are increasingly considering offering golden visas, among other incentives, to attract senior talent and retain existing employees.

Real estate portal Property Finder is using the programme to attract and retain software and data engineers, according to a recent media report.

The company will assist them and other senior leaders to secure the 10-year visa by offering support during the application process and covering the related fees, the report said.

Hiring activity has been bullish in the UAE’s technology sector since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, driven by businesses hastening their digital plans and global technology companies expanding in the Middle East, recruitment specialists have said.

Employees in Dubai's technology sector are the third-highest earners in the industry worldwide, according to a July survey by consultancy Mercer.

Software engineers in Dubai, with a minimum of three years’ experience, earn 30 per cent more than their counterparts in global technology centres such as London, Amsterdam and Berlin.

The pick-up in economic activity and business confidence spells good news for the wider job market, too.

“We have been observing a lot of companies giving candidates upfront signing-on bonuses,” says Zahra Clark, head of Mena operations at Tiger Recruitment.

“This has been offered to executive assistants [EAs] all the way up to C-level executives across the board in industries such as finance, e-commerce [and] private equity, [as well as] ultra-high-net-worth [individuals] since March this year. For instance, EAs are being offered signing on bonuses ranging from Dh35,000 to Dh70,000.”

Companies can’t always increase salaries because large international organisations have wage ceilings. To manoeuvre around that, they offer a significantly large joining bonus, Ms Clark says.

Other incentives being offered across industries include the ability to work from anywhere around the world for a month, bigger corporate discounts, higher bonuses that are subject to employee performance and an additional bonus.

“We have a slight decline in relocation packages, compared to what they used to be, but companies are offering cash to close that gap,” says Ms Clark.

The e-commerce industry is hiring at a good pace, she says.

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However, some large property companies are still quite rigid about their working models, Ms Clark says.

Technology companies have recently begun to offer employees golden visas as a new benefit, according to Bradley Maasdorp, a recruitment partner at AIQU Search, a division of TASC Outsourcing that focuses on the hiring of technology employees.

“Most commonly, we have had stock and share options while a few FinTech start-ups now offer unlimited leave as benefits,” he says.

“Under unlimited leave, employees can take as much leave as they want in a year as long as work is completed and they do a solid handover.”

There is strong tech hiring in the UAE out of Africa, where start-up ecosystems are historically strong, Eastern Europe and in countries such as Lebanon, he says.

Compensation for executive-level managers can include stock options, bonuses, allowances and other non-monetary incentives, says Nevin Lewis, chief executive of Black & Grey HR.

The variable pay is negotiated based on what value the prospective applicant brings to the table, business turnover and the risk involved in the move, he says.

Meanwhile, Suha Glal, 36, a Sudanese entrepreneur and academic researcher based in Al Ain, also received a golden visa after nominating herself. She paid about Dh5,000 for the entire process.

She owns a company called Hudhud Technologies, which is a consultancy for IT-based scientific research and software development, and also co-founded Cryptonaat, an Arabic digital information portal covering cryptocurrencies, Web3, blockchain and non-fungible tokens.

After securing the approval for the visa, she applied through a typing centre.

“Besides being allowed to reside in the UAE for 10 years, I can now sponsor my family members, including my spouse and children regardless of their age, and sponsor support services such as maids, which will give me more time to focus on my work,” says Ms Glal, who was born and raised in the UAE.

“There is no restriction on the maximum duration of stay outside the UAE to keep the golden visa valid. This is very useful in case I travel outside the UAE to pursue my PhD.”

Receiving the golden visa also makes it easy for Ms Glal to work with several companies simultaneously. Before that, she could only work for the academic institution sponsoring her visa.

“The application process was easy and fast,” she says. “You need to submit your qualification certificates and other administrative documents. The whole process took less than two weeks.”

Updated: September 12, 2022, 6:25 AM