UAE citizenship will be officially available to foreigners, primarily to the GCC

The UAE passport, recognized as one of the best in the world for mobility, will be offered to select foreigners and professionals, including “investors, doctors, specialists, inventors, scientists, talents, intellectuals, artists and their families,” the statement said.

“The United Arab Emirates has approved amendments … allowing investors, professionals, special talents and their families to acquire Emirati citizenship and passports under certain conditions,” the UAE government news agency WAM said in a statement Saturday.

“The move is aimed at valuing the talents and competencies available in the UAE and attracting more bright minds to the Emirati community in a way that contributes to the country’s development and prosperity.”

Foreigners, however, cannot apply for citizenship, they must be nominated by the UAE’s kings or officials, and the country’s cabinet will receive the final decision.

The announcement, unprecedented in the Gulf region, reflects how the small Arab sheikhdom has sought to retain top talent since the coronavirus pandemic forced tens of thousands of expatriates to leave last year. Nearly 90 percent of the UAE’s roughly 10 million residents are foreign nationals.

A series of foreigner-friendly reforms.

A major step forward in domestic politics, this move follows several months of historic reforms and diplomatic breakthroughs for the Middle Eastern trade and business center. In August, the UAE became the first Gulf country to normalize relations and open direct flights with Israel.

In the months that followed, the officially Muslim country introduced reforms legalizing coexistence, allowing the purchase of alcohol without a license, and allowing 100% ownership of foreign businesses, compared to previous requirements of 51% local ownership when based outside the free zone. 

Foreign residents of the UAE generally have renewable visas associated with their employment, which must be renewed every three years. This means they have little incentive to invest in the country over the long term, and they refrain from investing in areas such as real estate, an important pillar of the country’s economy.

“The model used to be for expatriates was, ‘Let’s make as much as we can out of this country and then move home,'” said Karim Jetha, director of investments at Longdean Capital, an emerging-economy asset manager.

“The new thinking that the government is trying to inspire is that ‘if you give as much as you can to this country, you can call it home.

Big Investment Incentives s

The UAE government in late 2020 expanded its already existing “golden” visa program, which gives 10-year stays to certain professionals and diploma holders. It also introduced five-year retirement visas for those above a certain income level. More recently, a distant work visa was introduced that allows people working abroad to stay for one year, as long as they meet wage requirements. 

But citizenship would allow for a permanent stake in the country, expanding the pool of willing investors. Investors seeking citizenship must own property in the UAE, for example.

“The decision to grant citizenship is the latest in a series of steps the UAE government has taken to make society more inclusive and encourage longer-term expatriates,” Jetha said.

Currently, UAE citizens receive very attractive benefits: high tax-free income; subsidized education, health care and fuel; incentive packages to buy houses and land; and pensions and retirement benefits from age 49.

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