The UAE has been built on the back of a diverse population of expats who have helped take the population from barely one million in 1980 to well over 9 million today.
Indeed, today the UAE population is only made up of 10% UAE nationals with the rest made up of expats attracted by the year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches, higher salaries and tax-free packages which have often included housing, education, healthcare, cars and travel.
In recent years, however, the UAE has in many ways become a less attractive proposition for expats as the UAE’s economy has fluctuated greatly due to falling oil prices, which in turn has led to a slump in the property sector and a squeeze on salaries.
The recent introduction of 5% VAT has also added further to the cost pressures of expats as they saw the cost of consumer goods, leisure and food increase.
However, things are looking up for 2019.
The UAE has a GDP growth forecast of 3.7%, according to the IMF after the government has taken a number of steps to move away from the region’s reliance on oil revenue and to make the area a more attractive place to do business, help companies retain their current staff, and increase their headcount from abroad if necessary.
One of the new polices to “create an atmosphere of confidence” was recently unveiled by the government.
Expat investors, entrepreneurs, innovators and specialists in the fields of science and knowledge can now apply for a 10-year visa in the UAE as a resident.
The government has made this move to strengthen the loyalty of expatriates to the UAE and encourage them to invest in their future.
In a tweet, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai said that the new visa system will ensure that the UAE remains “a global incubator for talents and a permanent destination for pioneers”.
The move has been widely well received with many believing that it will make the UAE more competitive globally and more able to attract the best in expat talent.
In another positive step for expats, the UAE government has made a major policy shift designed to give expatriates a bigger stake in the economy by announcing that it will allow foreigners to obtain extended residency visas after they retire, with applications to be received from 2019.
This is a big positive for the large number of UAE expats who have made the region their long-term home and who faced, under current legislation, to be forced to leave when they reached the retirement age between 60 and 65.
In a further move, the UAE government has unveiled sweeping reforms to allow foreign investors 100% ownership of local businesses in the UAE, boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country.
Currently, the law states that foreigners can only own up to a 49% stake in companies not located in specially designated free zones and businesses have to sign partnerships with Emirati stakeholders.
The news was widely welcomed by the financial services sector and across trade and industry in the region with many expressing that they see it could contribute to increasing transparency, quality of service and to cementing the UAE’s role in shaping the future of investment in the region.
In a final recent policy change that will have a significant impact on the lives of expats the UAE approved new rules for expats sponsoring family members which will give skilled workers the opportunity to bring their family to the UAE, no matter what their educational background.
According to a statement by the General Secretariat of the Cabinet, the amended provisions now indicate “income” as a requirement for sponsoring family members, as opposed to the previously listed “professions” which allowed workers to sponsor their families. The amendment is in line with international developments and accordance with best practices, it added.
“The decision aims at enhancing family stability of foreign workers and social cohesion, as well as attracting highly skilled workers, while maintaining a healthy balance between professional and personal life,” the statement continued.
The UAE currently hosts residents from over 200 nationalities and their rights are “safeguarded by national legislation”, the General Secretariat of the Cabinet added.
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