Emirati citizenship for talented foreigners and investors 'game changer' for the Gulf

A woman walks by the waterline at the Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates, on February 16, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Emirati citizenship for talented foreigners and investors 'game changer' for the Gulf

  • UAE authorities recently announced plans to offer citizenship to select foreigners based on a number of criteria
  • Experts say the decision will benefit the wider economy and give expatriates a real stake in the country’s future

DUBAI: Foreign migrant workers make up nearly 90 percent of the population in the UAE’s seven emirates, making it one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse countries in the world. But expatriates have never been given the chance to apply for, or shown a pathway to, citizenship.

Now, legal reforms adopted by the UAE leadership that overturn this longstanding practice are being hailed as a potentially transformative development for the country’s future.

Given the similarities in the policy-development processes of the Arab Gulf countries, some experts wonder whether the UAE’s move could become a bellwether for other GCC countries that are trying to diversify their economies and grappling with identical population challenges. In a tweet, Kuwaiti investor and adviser Ali Al-Salim called the Emirati citizenship offer “a game changer for the Gulf.”

All eyes will definitely be on how the UAE manages the risks and rewards of the new approach. In any case, only a select group of foreigners living in the country are expected to qualify for Emirati nationality. Legislators believe granting citizenship to investors as well as talented and innovative people will benefit the wider economy and give expats a real stake in the country’s future.

“We adopted law amendments that allow granting the UAE citizenship to investors, specialized talents and professionals including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors and their families,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, said in a tweet on Jan. 30. “The new directives aim to attract talents that contribute to our development journey.”

For decades foreign migrant workers have been the mainstay of the UAE’s economy, in everything from the service sector to the top professions. The vast majority are South and Southeast Asian workers, who send their wages home as remittances.

Yet, residency for this segment of the population has remained largely contingent on their employment visas. Even children born to foreign parents in the UAE are not entitled to Emirati citizenship.

Under the new law, the cabinet, executive councils and local courts will begin nominating those eligible for citizenship under a strictly set criteria. According to a statement published by the state-owned Emirates News Agency, investors, doctors, scientists and people in the creative industries will be among the first to be considered.

“The UAE is very much en route to becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural country and it is certainly taking all the steps to make that happen,” Nasser Saidi, a Lebanese politician and economist who previously served as minister of economy and industry, told Arab News.

“The new citizenship law goes very much in this same direction. Previously, you were just a visitor here in one form or another. You were employed, you invested, but you didn’t have a long-term stake in the country. UAE citizenship for foreigners means you now have a long-term stake in the country.”




The Gulf state relies on a large international labor force to function, right, but path to citizenship was never previously easy. (AFP)

Then there is the Gulf region’s looming demographic challenge. A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the Department of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle last year predicted that by 2050, 151 nations will not be producing enough babies to sustain their populations.

Falling fertility is already a problem in the Gulf states. In 2017, the global fertility rate was 2.37, but in the six GCC states it averaged just 1.84. Qatar, Bahrain and Oman were on the verge of failing to maintain their population numbers, but they were already dropping steadily in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

By 2100, the situation in these countries is predicted to be even worse, with fertility rates falling to between 1.32 and 1.39 children in Saudi Arabia and between 1.23 and 1.27 in the UAE.

For the GCC states, there is an additional problem: they are seeking to diversify their economies and, at the same time, trying to replace foreign workers in key roles with their own citizens.

Going back in time and reversing the progress made in gender equality in the workplace and in society at large is impossible. Likewise, any attempt to persuade women to have more children against their will is not a viable solution.

For high-income countries with shrinking local populations, the University of Washington researchers saw only one way out: “The optimal strategy for economic growth, fiscal stability, and geopolitical security is liberal immigration with effective assimilation into these societies.”

For now, though, only select foreigners and professionals can aspire to obtaining a UAE passport. Investors seeking citizenship must own property in the UAE, have obtained one or more patents approved by the UAE Ministry of Economy or another reputable international body, in addition to a recommendation letter from the ministry, according to the statement.

Doctors must be specialized in a unique scientific discipline or one in high demand in the UAE, while scientists are required to be active researchers at a university, research center or in the private sector with practical experience of no less than 10 years in the same field.

Intellectuals and artists, meanwhile, must be considered pioneers in their field and ideally have won one or more international awards. Recommendation letters from relevant government entities are also mandatory.

One particularly enticing aspect of the policy is that it allows new UAE passport applicants to also keep their existing citizenship.

“You can retain your own home country citizenship, which is very important for many people,” said Saidi. “There’s a big advantage from that point of view. Importantly, what this is really saying in terms of the economic aspect is that it allows you to be a leader in the country. It will attract and maintain human capital.”

Before the amendment to the citizenship law was announced, the UAE had unveiled a raft of measures to shake up its foreign-ownership laws to make the country more welcoming to investors by abolishing the need for companies to have Emirati shareholders.




Under the new law, the cabinet, executive councils and local courts will begin nominating those eligible for citizenship under a strictly set criteria. (AFP)

In 2019, the UAE announced plans to grant extended visas to wealthy property investors, entrepreneurs and “specialized talents and researchers.” In late 2020 the government expanded the “golden” visa program and began offering five-year retirement visas to people above a certain income level. Subsequently, it introduced a remote worker visa permitting one-year stays for people with employment overseas provided they met a minimum salary requirement.

“The first advantage is that you are creating a much more diverse multi-skilled labor force by reaching new people from other nationalities,” said Saidi, referring to the liberalized UAE residency rules.

“The second, the idea is to move away from the past economic model of the UAE, which is a ‘build it and they will come’ type of model to one based more on knowledge and tech-oriented development of industries. Fourth, you retain talent, and fifth, you increase foreign direct investment into the country.”

Experts see many of the changes in the UAE’s visa policies as a response to sluggish economic growth, low oil prices and financial blows delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since 2015, you have had ups and downs in oil prices which has meant that continuing with the model where you are non-diversified becomes an increasingly risky proposition, particularly at a time of climate change when countries across the world are moving to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Saidi.

“The market for oil over time has become smaller as countries shift towards greater energy efficiency and greater renewable energy. When you think of de-risking your fossil fuel assets, you do what Saudi Arabia did with Aramco. Everyone wants to de-risk now, which means greater diversification and moving away from high energy-intense activities. And this has been taking place over the last three to four years.”

In order to diversify, UAE legislators hope attracting skilled workers and big investors will insulate its economy from future oil shocks and prepare it for a carbon-neutral world. The hope is that, in the process the UAE will also evolve into an active, multi-ethnic society.

“From a business perspective there is nothing that will encourage people to be freer with their cash in our country than the idea that they have a safe and long-term home here,” Mishal Kanoo, an Emirati businessman and deputy chairman of Kanoo Group, told Arab News.

“The idea is to encourage the best and the brightest in their field from all over the world to come and live here and contribute to the economy and this will bring about change not just in the economy but in new ideas for growth and development.”

Emirati public intellectuals believe change will not happen overnight, and that there will be some trepidation in a young country of just one million full-fledged citizens.

“A law was announced, but from the time it gets announced to the time it is implemented, a lot of things will need to be checked and rechecked,” said Kanoo.

“Any change causes a fear factor. The best way to overcome any fear is to dip your foot in and see what it is like.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

Updated 28 February 2021

UN calls for children in Syria camps to be allowed home

  • UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at Al-Hol camp
  • Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria

BEIRUT: The UN children’s agency called Sunday for all minors held in displacement camps or jails in northeast Syria to be allowed home.
UNICEF made its plea a day after three children died in a fire at the overcrowded camp of Al-Hol, for people displaced in the fight against Daesh.
After years of leading the US-backed fight against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of alleged militants in jails and tens of thousands of their family members in camps in northeast Syria.
They hail from Syria, neighboring Iraq and dozens of other foreign countries.
Many are children.
“In the northeast of Syria, there are more than 22,000 foreign children from at least 60 nationalities who languish in camps and prisons, in addition to many thousands of Syrian children,” UNICEF regional director Ted Chaiban said in a statement, without giving a number of children held in jails.
He urged authorities in the northeast of Syria and UN member states to “do everything possible to bring children currently in the northeast of Syria back home.”
They should do this “through integrating Syrian children in their local communities and the repatriation of foreign children,” he added.
The Kurdish authorities have started sending thousands of displaced Syrians home from the camps.
But repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears, with just a handful of children and even fewer women being brought home.
Three children and a woman died on Saturday after a stove exploded in the Al-Hol camp, starting a fire, a Kurdish official said.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at least 26 were injured.
Al-Hol is home to more than 62,000 people, displaced family members and relatives of alleged IS fighters, more than half of them children, it says.
A spate of killings, including decapitations, has rocked the camp since the start of the year, and humanitarian actors have repeatedly deplored living conditions there.
On February 1, the Save the Children charity also urged Iraq and Western countries to repatriate children from northeast Syria faster.
Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed air strikes by a US-led coalition expelled Daesh from their last patch of territory in Syria in March 2019, in a battle that displaced tens of thousands.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Updated 28 February 2021

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at

AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.


Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

Updated 28 February 2021

Vatican envoy to Iraq tests COVID-19 positive ahead of Pope visit

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for COVID-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.