Could citizenship for talented foreigners and investors be the GCC’s game changer?

The UAE is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most advanced nations, making it an attractive option for foreign nationals, main. (AFP)
The UAE is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most advanced nations, making it an attractive option for foreign nationals, main. (AFP)
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Updated 24 February 2021

Could citizenship for talented foreigners and investors be the GCC’s game changer?

Could citizenship for talented foreigners and investors be the GCC’s game changer?
  • 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 become a UAE passport holder. 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


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 21 min 8 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 41 min 56 sec ago

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.


Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
Mahmud Fannas, who carries out the traditional role of a Musaharati (Ramadan drummer), who awakens Muslims for the pre-dawn traditional suhur meal during Ramadan, visits a young fan in an alley in the old city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
  • Iftar events banned as new curfew goes into effect and donations are fleeting during the holy month
  • People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them

BEIRUT: The social events, traditions and gatherings usually celebrated during Ramadan will be very different this year in Lebanon as the country continues to grapple with unprecedented economic collapse and a coronavirus (COVID-19) surge.

Leading up to the holy month, preparations for Ramadan were slight in Beirut as only a few signs reminding people to donate could be seen in the city’s main streets. Charity foundations usually rely on the month of Ramadan every year to collect donations but the country’s ability to give is fleeting.

“More than 50 percent of the Lebanese now live under the poverty line,” World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhaj said on April 4.

In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, the National Disaster Management Operations Room imposed a new curfew that applies during Ramadan from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. It has also banned all iftar events.

Charitable organizations can distribute food to houses, but only after obtaining a permit from the electronic platform. The capacity of worshippers at mosques will be limited to 30 percent while restaurants and cafes, which have already endured several months of lockdown, will be closed again during the holy month.

The price inflation has become a daily nightmare for the Lebanese, and with the arrival of Ramadan, the prices of essential goods, like vegetables and fruits, have increased even further due to the high demand.

“The price of one kilo of beef has increased to between 60 and 70,000 pounds and a kilo of taouk chicken was sold at 50,000 pounds on the first day of Ramadan,” Abbas Ali Salim, a butcher shop owner in Beirut’s southern suburbs, told Arab News.

“People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them. The black market is trading the state-subsidized meat, monopolized by traders who are controlling the prices.”

Due to inflation, the cost of a typical iftar meal — lentil soup, fattoush salad, a main dish of chicken and rice, a half a cup of yogurt and a single date — has reached more than 60,000 Lebanese pounds, according to the crisis observatory at the American University of Beirut.

By those estimates, a full month of iftar meals for a family of five would cost 1.8 million pounds, which is much higher than the Lebanese minimum wage of 675,000 pounds. This cost does not even cover the juices, desserts, gas, electricity or cleaning material used for cooking.

Researchers at the observatory said a fattoush salad for a small family that cost 6,000 pounds during Ramadan last year, now costs 18,500 pounds. This means that the cost of a daily salad during this year’s Ramadan would be about 82 percent of the minimum wage.

The observatory feared that families might cope with the inflation by “cutting quantities or opting for cheaper alternatives to replace vegetables and meat, which would result in malnutrition.”

Mohammad Chamseddine, a researcher from the independent studies and statistics company Information International, said: “The prices of basic goods in Ramadan have increased by between 25 and 100 percent, with a significant reduction in sales, as the purchasing power of the Lebanese, especially those getting paid in Lebanese pounds, has eroded.”

Ramadan has also been affected by the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination plan, which started in February. Lebanon's Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Tuesday that “over 20 percent of the Lebanese people have developed immunity, either through infection or vaccination.”