UAE steps up pitch for foreign expertise

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A worker cleans at the EDGE exhibit in the International Defence Exhibition, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Feb 22, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

From hosting innovation shows to easing visa rules, the United Arab Emirates is making its intentions clear in seeking more foreign talent to bolster the country’s plans for economic diversification.

That spirit of openness has been evident in the three-day Innovation Arabia event, which wrapped up on Wednesday as a virtual gathering drawing investors, businesspeople and in-demand professionals. This year’s theme was Innovation Everywhere.

Ahead of the event, the ruler of Dubai released details of a program that makes it easier for foreigners to set up a permanent home in the Persian Gulf state.

In a tweet, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the changes to the law would benefit a range of talented people, including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors and their families. The new directives, he said, “aimed to attract talents that contribute to our development journey”.

The Dubai ruler, who is also vice-president and prime minister of the UAE, added in the tweet: “The UAE Cabinet, local Emiri courts & executive councils will nominate those eligible for the citizenship under clear criteria set for each category. The law allows receivers of the UAE passport to keep their existing citizenship.”

Patrick Cooke, managing editor for Middle East and Asia at research publisher Oxford Business Group, called the series of reforms “eye-catching”.

Citizenship rights in member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council “have historically been tightly guarded, so this can be seen as a game-changer in many ways”, Cooke said.

As the global economy slowly recovers from the pandemic, Cooke said the international investment climate will be highly competitive, marked by low interest rates, careful scrutiny of capital allocation, and rapid digitalization that has reshaped whole industries in a very short space of time.

“In this highly competitive environment, special talents capable of developing and executing innovative business ideas will be highly prized,” said Cooke.

Work destination

The UAE Cabinet late in January moved to allow expatriate students to bring their families to the country and sponsor them, positioning the Arab nation as a leading education and work destination.

Froilan Malit Jr, a Gulf migration specialist at Cambridge University, called the broadened student visa rights “a big step and a good step”.

He said the move would facilitate mobility and that there is a need to incentivize students with high capacity to contribute to competitiveness, diversification and knowledge-development strategies.

“That could be an indirect strategy, too, if the policy is to encourage investments” not just from the students but also from the families, said Malit, who is also the managing director of Rights Corridor, an online platform on Asia-Gulf migration.

Over the past four years, the UAE has made a series of updates to its residency and visa requirements. In 2017, it introduced an updated medical treatment visa allowing foreign patients to be issued with individual or group visas for 90 days in order to boost medical tourism.

The following year, the Cabinet approved a law to give retired residents over the age of 55 a long-term visa for five years. The visa can be automatically renewed subject to investment and financial criteria.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE in December granted visa extensions to those who have been affected by travel disruptions.