Move could have much wider economic impact if eligibility requirement broadened to bring in more people.
The UAE’s plan to grant long-term visas to the country’s foreign population, particularly investors, specialists and exceptional students, will go a long way in reinforcing business confidence and igniting a sense of belonging among expatriates, analysts and business professionals said.
Welcoming the Cabinet’s approval for the long-term visa system aimed at giving expatriates a bigger stake in the economy and foster long-term growth, business leaders said the move could have a much wider economic impact if the eligibility requirement is broadened to bring in more people.
Since the new system benefits only the affluent and people with specialised expertise, this long-awaited initiative falls short of many people’s expectations, analysts said.
“We hope the long-term visa programme will promote investment climate and boost business confidence. Since expatriates constitute around 90 per cent of the UAE’s 9.7 million population, this initiative will have a far reaching positive impact on the economy,” said James Mathew, group CEO at Crowe UAE and Oman.
“The new visa programme is a step in the right direction but in order to have a large impact on domestic demand and sectors such as real estate, the policies might need to be broadened so that larger numbers of residents can qualify,” said Jean-Paul Pigat, head of research at Lighthouse Research in Dubai.
Nishit Lakhotia, head of research at financial company Sico, said the new visa system was positive but unlikely to have any immediate material impact. “There are much less-stringent investment requirements in some of Eastern European countries… to get citizenship, not just residency permits,” he said.
Most analysts said the visa policy needs to be more inclusive to become more effective. In the present form, the programme will facilitate visas only for investors, entrepreneurs, specialised talents, researchers – including their spouses and children.
While the new measures are helpful first steps, “the current thresholds for investors and entrepreneurs mean that only a small minority of expatriates will benefit from these measures”, said Ziad Daoud, an economist based in Dubai.
In another step to support the real estate market, the UAE government approved in September a law allowing expatriates to stay in the country after retirement if they own a property valued at about $545,000.
The rules approved by the cabinet last Saturday offer five-year residency to owners of UAE real estate worth at least Dh5 million as long as ownership is not based on loans.
Renewable 10-year visas will be provided to foreigners with investments in the UAE of at least Dh10 million, if non-real estate assets account for at least 60 per cent of the total. Investors can bring spouses and children into the country. Other rules offer five-year visas to entrepreneurs and 10-year visas for scientists and researchers with top qualifications. Outstanding students can stay for five years.
As per the Cabinet decision, the amount invested shall be wholly owned by the investor and not loaned, and should be proven by supporting documents. There should be an investment retention for at least three years.
The long-term visa could also be extended to include business partners, provided that each partner contributes Dh10 million, the spouse and the children, as well as one executive director and one advisor.
However, the decision allows investors to enter the country for a six-month period, multiple entry, to apply for the long-term visa requirements.
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