Migration policy renewal can bolster region’s competitiveness
Many nations today credit their success partly to the contributions of foreign workers. History is replete with migrant luminaries who have made stellar achievements in diverse fields, such as economics, entrepreneurship, medicine, science, sports, journalism, and the arts.
For example, German-born physicist Albert Einstein immigrated to the US during the Nazi Party’s rise to power in the 1930s. There, he took up a position at the newly established Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, and ultimately became acknowledged as one of the most prominent physicists in history. Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, emigrated from Russia to America in 1979 before establishing one of the world’s most successful, game-changing technology companies. And Greek-born journalist Arianna Huffington has been hailed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She co-founded the renowned Huffington Post news site, where she also held the post of editor in chief. She became a naturalized US citizen in 1990.
In recent years, countries in the Middle East have been revising their migration policies in an effort to attract and retain global talents. In 2018, the UAE announced its golden visa scheme, which allows certain expats to live, work and study in the country for 10 years without the need for a local sponsor. They are also allowed 100 percent ownership of their businesses within the UAE. The program targets investors with at least 10 million dirhams ($2.7 million) of public investments, entrepreneurs, highly skilled talents in specific fields, and outstanding students with scientific capabilities. Dubai has also launched a 10-year cultural visa to attract creatives in the fields of the arts, heritage, history and literature. And the UAE government this year issued directives to allow expats to acquire Emirati citizenship, based on certain eligibility criteria. This program is aimed at investors, doctors, inventors, scientists, intellectuals and creatives.
In 2019, Saudi Arabia also announced its permanent residency program to attract highly talented expats to reside in the country without the need for a local sponsor. Expats can choose one of two types of residency: Permanent residency for a one-time fee of SR800,000 ($213,000) or temporary residency for an annual fee of SR100,000. Applicants enjoy a number of benefits, such as the ability to travel freely in and out of Saudi Arabia, to sponsor residence and visitor visas for their families, hire foreign domestic workers, purchase real estate, and work or change jobs with private sector companies.
Many countries’ economic strategies involve focusing on advanced sectors that require talented workers with highly specialized knowledge and skills. Additionally, multinationals that set up their regional headquarters in the Middle East rely on workers with relevant experience and skills. There might not initially be enough local workers with the skills and experience to support these companies’ investments, which is why migration policies can deliver immediate economic and social value to nations.
Foreign workers can cover gaps in specific sectors or jobs, possess valuable qualifications and skills, expedite research and technological progress, set up successful enterprises, boost economic value and productivity, transfer knowledge to local workers, and pay taxes. Furthermore, they bring with them a host of cultures, ideas and social contributions, all of which enhance local communities. Indeed, their contributions are invaluable for any country to remain competitive in today’s globalized market. In the coming decades, many countries will face volatile demographic changes, characterized by increased elderly segments and a reduction in working-age populations. Consequently, migration policies will be more important than ever in making up for any shortfalls in the labor market.
As such, governments have designed immigration policies to attract certain migrants. These include detailed lists of specific occupations and skills that are needed, fair employment laws that safeguard workers’ rights, a variety of leaves for workers, employment contracts that are best practice, reasonable working hours, and work-life balance schemes. Different visa types are usually designed to attract different classes of foreign talents that meet specific eligibility criteria. For example, Singapore’s “Tech.Pass” targets investors or technical experts with experience in fast-growing technology companies. Australia’s Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce targets talented individuals with entrepreneurial ideas that can boost innovation in specific industries. Meanwhile, the UK’s Innovator Visa targets those who want to establish a uniquely innovative business.
Other interconnected policies should focus on providing favorable conditions for foreign workers, including quality of life, good education systems, housing availability and affordability, purchasing power, remuneration, healthcare services, safety, a business-friendly regulatory framework, tax systems, expat pensions, connectivity, and transportation. These, combined with the fact that many countries have competitive business environments that attract global and local companies to do business in their countries, means there will always be demand for the relocation of foreign talent.
Foreign workers’ contributions are invaluable for any country to remain competitive in today’s globalized market.
Successful migration policies envision the ideal mix of foreign workers that are needed to fill important positions in various sectors, usually determined by quotas, qualifications, visa types, and employment duration periods. For example, Australia’s National Skills Commission advises the government on a periodically updated list of needed skilled occupations that can be filled with foreign workers, catering to both the private and public sectors. Before the coronavirus pandemic, this list included hospitality, aeronautics, agriculture, archaeology, medicine, mining, industrial design, and transportation.
By revisiting migration policies in the region, in addition to other important interconnected policies, countries can compete for global talents who can advance their national agendas and offer immense economic and social value.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. www.amorelicious.com.