UAE: new residency rules

New visas build on ‘golden visa’ scheme which made it easier for investors and highly skilled workers to move to UAE

September 08, 2021

The UAE’s recent relaxation of residency requirements is great news for Pakistanis seeking employment opportunities abroad, but terrible news for local employers and the government. Under the new ‘green visa’ programme, foreigners will be able to live and work in the UAE without company sponsorship and can sponsor their parents and children up to 25 years old. This is a huger shift from the previous system where a limited number of long-term residency permits were available for those with significant investment in the country, or where companies had to jump through hurdles to sponsor foreign workers.

The move was not surprising, as the UAE has long been looking for ways to diversify its economy beyond oil. While it has had some success, economic expansion is impossible without the corresponding labour force; and despite investment in education and training, and encouraging the hiring of locals, there are just not enough Emirati workers available. The new visas build on the UAE’s previous ‘golden visa’ scheme which made it easier for investors and highly skilled workers — besides exceptional students and postgraduates — to move to the country. Other resource-rich Gulf states have introduced similar visa programmes in recent years, though none this expansive.

The increasing ease with which the rich and highly skilled Pakistani workers will be able to leave the country and move their assets abroad legally should be a cause of concern for the government. Most expat workers moved alone as their manual labour intensive jobs did not pay enough to sustain families in expensive Gulf cities. These are the workers whose remittances support the economy, not the few highly-paid skilled workers who move abroad with their families. Pakistan desperately needs skilled workers, but local businesses rarely pay well enough to keep them from looking abroad. Security and quality of life problems also mean that visa sponsorship was one of the main hurdles for top professionals wanting to leave the country. A mass exodus at a time when the economy is already struggling would be a recipe for disaster.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2021.

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