In the past few years, the United Arab Emirates has made significant changes to its previously restrictive visa and citizenship laws in an effort to keep the country at the forefront of Middle Eastern locations that are attracting foreign tech talent and companies. The latest step in this effort was made in February, when the Emirates become the first country in the GCC to allow full naturalization with dual-citizenship.
Vice-President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum stated in early February that amendments to the Executive Regulation of the UAE Federal Law (the “Citizenship Law”) have been made with the aim to attract talent. Talent categories listed under the new are broadly defined, and include specialists, inventors and scientists, and citizenship is extended to the immediate families of those who qualify.
Business-friendly rules aim to attract talent
The new citizenship law, as well as other regulations that eased restrictions on foreign workers, complement other initiatives meant to strengthen the UAE’s position as a Middle East commercial hub. Business-friendly regulations, investment in technology, relatively good connectivity and a first-class transportation infrastructure, have helped make the UAE a Gulf IT talent magnet.
“The UAE has identified the areas in which it wants to lead the region and the world. The new scheme will attract talent to the country and ensure that there is generational retention of that talent,” explains Nazar Musa, CEO of Pro Partner Group, a Dubai-based firm that specializes in visa and citizenship applications.
While the citizenship amendments will certainly open up more opportunities for citizenship in the UAE, eligibility requirements remain extremely strict as executive regulation has yet to be officially enacted. For the moment this means any potential applicant for citizenship under the new amendments must be directly nominated by a member of the ruling family or Court of the Crown Prince.
While it is unclear if this pathway to citizenship will eventually be opened to applicants without a royal nomination, the law itself is radically inclusive compared to existing residency visa and citizenship regulations in the region.
“The law mentioned that the candidate has to be a resident of the UAE without stating any period of previous presence in the country,” says Ghanem Al Hajeri, founder, partner and head of litigation at Dubai law firm International Consultant Law Office (ICLO), as well as a member of the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration. “No restriction on the country of origin or religion, as well as no need for a sponsor, is listed by the legislature.”
‘Golden’ visa an alternative for UAE residency
For those without a royal connection who want to establish roots in the UAE, there are more options for long-term residency now than ever before.
In 2019, the UAE implemented the aptly named “Golden Visa” scheme for long-term residence visas. The system allows foreigners to live, work, and study in the UAE without the previously required national sponsor. Business-owners holding a Golden Visa enjoy 100% ownership of their business, which prior to the change was a sticking point for many would-be entrepreneurs.
Among those eligible to apply for the five or 10-year renewable Golden Visa are engineers in the fields of electronics, programming, electricity, and biotechnology, as well as holders of specialized degrees in artificial intelligence, and big data. All of the rights and privileges associated with the Golden Visa extend to the holder’s immediate family.
Demand for Golden Visa applications has been high since its launch. To accommodate the flood of Golden Visa hopefuls, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship opened an online portal to manage applications for the Golden Business Visa, part of the Golden Visa system aimed at entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the UAE.
Holding a Golden Visa may support citizenship applications in the future as regulations continue to change. “Currently, it is preferable that interested expats go through the Golden Visa application process first. This will increase their chances of eligibility for nomination for the UAE citizenship,” says Hajeri.
The UAE’s efforts to ease foreign-worker restriction may have also had the effect of spurring other nations in the region to do the same. For example, Saudi Arabia last year introduced an “instant” visa scheme, making it easier to hire foreign nationals.