The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced that it will be opening the opportunity for foreigners to gain citizenship, a first in the Gulf region.
According to the UAE, citizenship will be offered to select foreigners and professionals including “investors, doctors, specialists, inventors, scientists, talents, intellectuals, artists and their families.”
Emirati nationality for foreigners
In a release on Saturday, the UAE government’s WAM news agency reported: “The United Arab Emirates has approved amendments… allowing investors, professionals, special talents and their families to acquire the Emirati nationality and passport under certain conditions.”
“The step aims at appreciating the talents and competencies present in the UAE and attracting more bright minds to the Emirati community in a way that contributes to the development and prosperity of the country,” it added.
Under the process, foreigners cannot apply but needs to nominated for citizenship by UAE royals or officials. The nomination will then need to be approved by the country’s cabinet.
The initiative demonstrates the sheikdom’s objective to retain top talent as tens of thousands of expats left the UAE last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 90% of the UAE’s 10 million inhabitants are foreign nationals and its economy relies heavily on them.
The citizenship offer is the latest among the UAE’s series of foreign-friendly reforms and diplomatic breakthroughs. Last August, it became the first Gulf country to normalize relations and open direct flights with Israel.
The UAE, whose official religion is Islam, has also introduced reforms legalizing cohabitation, allowing alcohol buying without a license, and allowing 100% foreign business ownership from the previous requirements of 51% local ownership when based outside of a free zone.
In late 2020, the UAE government decided to expand its Golden Visa program, which gives 10-year residency to certain professionals and degree holders and introduced five-year retirement visas for people above a certain income level.
A remote worker visa has also been introduced to enable one-year stays for people with employment overseas but will need to meet a salary requirement.
Impressions on UAE reforms
Taufiq Rahim, a Dubai-based senior fellow in the international security program at the New America think tank, considers the new citizenship policy to be critical for the UAE’s future.
Rahim explained: “The pathway to citizenship for expatriates while limited in scope and unclear in details today, is a transformative development for the future. The announcement broke the barrier on an issue that was previously taboo and in the long-term will spur greater investment in the UAE.”
“In the short-term, however, it is more a feel good story than a driver of economic returns,” he added.
Meanwhile, Karim Jetha, chief investment officer at emerging markets asset management firm Longdean Capital, said: “The model for expatriates used to be ‘let’s make as much as we can from this country then move home’. The new mindset the government is trying to inspire is ‘if you give as much as you can to this country, you can call it your home’.”
“The decision to grant citizenship is the latest in a series of moves by the UAE government to make society more inclusive and encourage longer-term stays by expatriates,” added Jetha.