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Some expats, investors, outstanding professionals, scientists and artists may now get the Emiratis passport and become dual nationals. The initiative was introduced by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and set in motion by the Cabinet headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, on January, 2021. Traditionally, Gulf countries pursue conservative policy towards foreigners’ naturalization – it is a long and complicated process, conducted on case-by-case basis. By now, the UAE is the first nation in the Middle East to offer dual citizenship for non-Emiratis, on par with the Western countries. Another Gulf state that provides citizenship programs for overseas specialists is Saudi Arabia – it welcomes experts in medicine and technology.
As a rule, legal long-term stay for foreigners is limited for 2-3 years. This is validity period of a typical working visa, that may be renewed after expiration. The launch of “golden visa” program in 2019 was one step further in softening immigration regime. The abovementioned program allows 10-year residency to specialized degree-holders, experts of certain professions, outstanding students and their families. Before the new program was adopted only wives and children of the Emiratis and long-standing residents empowered by the presidential decree might obtain the UAE’s passport. The law clauses of January 2021 marked out the next significant change to the previous rule of naturalization – the list of eligible persons was considerably increased and dual citizenship was approved.
New law amendments allow granting the UAE citizenship for a few key categories of people that have crucial importance for the nation’s economics. Intending to attract and support foreign investors, skilled professionals, talented creatives and intellectuals, that may bring significant contribution to the prosperity of the country the government aims to enrich the society and ensure further evolution.
Evidently, it’s a “win-win” situation for all parties involved. Already working expats may set deeper roots in the country. New-coming specialists will be provided with an inclusive environment and innovative facilities for professional practice. All eligible persons will share an array of benefits, such as the right to own properties, to establish and run business in the Emirates and more.
Investing in human capital has a high priority and goes in line with the Centennial Plan 2071, elaborated and ratified by the UAE government. The vision identifies the major goals and strategies to be achieved within 100 years, successful implementation of which largely depends on qualified human resources. That is why the government is interested in “bright minds” inflow.
New provisions of Executive Regulation of the Citizenship and Passport Law identify categories of foreigners and eligibility conditions for the Emirati citizenship nomination, which include:
An important addition is that the family members of the eligible candidates, namely spouses and children, have the right to be included in citizenship application.
Apart from the abovementioned criteria of qualification, the persons will have to take an oath of allegiance, comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations and undertake immediately to inform the authorities about acquiring or losing any other nationality.
Current legislation defines several ways of becoming an Emirati citizen. These include: by the law, by citizenship and by naturalization. All related issues are handled by Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.
According to newly adopted changes a foreigner can acquire the UAE’s citizenship only through the Rulers’ and Crown Princes’ Courts, Offices of the Executive Councils and the Cabinet based on the nominations of federal entities.
There is no application procedure as such by now, but general principle of nomination looks as follows:
The UAE cabinet will nominate and consider each individual personally. In order to examine nationality applications, main advisory committee and sub-committees will be organized under the governance of Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA).
Being attached to particular areas, sub-committees will collect primary information and nominate those eligible for the citizenship under clear criteria set for each category. Sub-committees rescreen personal data and all confirmations and may appoint an additional investigation, if necessary.
If approved the case will be handed to the advisory committee next. The advisory committee will include seven representatives (one from each of seven emirates) and will make final decision on the award of citizenship.
New rules of acquiring citizenship in the Emirates evoke many questions. The following below are the answers to the most common ones.
Currently, the UAE citizenship may be granted to select categories of foreigners only, which include investors, top professionals and talented creatives. The candidates are to be nominated and approved by the UAE royals or the Cabinet. For that purpose, an applicant should meet the criteria outlined for each category.
The longest uninterrupted legal stay in the country is possible when acquiring 10-year golden visa. An investor should spend AED 10 mln (USD 2.7 mln) in public sector, 40% of which should go to real estate, 60% to other fields. The property is mandatory to be maintained for at least three years.
There are certain types of visas, that allow non-Emiratis to live, work and study in the country for several consecutive years without a national sponsor – golden visa, retirement visa and remote working visa.
Golden visa allows investors, entrepreneurs, students and specialized talents to live in the UAE for 5- and 10-year periods. Each term has its own criteria of eligibility for every category of applicants.
Retirement visa is renewable and valid for five years. It is available for the residents aged over 55, who have AED 1 mln (USD 270 000) and more in savings; they must earn not less than AED 20 000 (USD 5500) monthly and own property worth AED 2 mln (USD 5 500 000).
Remote working visa entitles the holder to live in the Emirates and work remotely to any other country for one year and benefit from tax-free salary and many other perks of living in the UAE. The income of the applicant should reach around AED 19 000 (USD 5000). The visa costs AED 1055 (USD 287) per year.
The law specifies, that children born to the Emirati fathers in the UAE or abroad automatically become the UAE citizens. Children of Emiratis mothers and foreign men are entitled for the citizenship by naturalization. Children born to unknown parents in the UAE, until proven otherwise, are considered Emiratis. Children of expats, born in the UAE retain nationality of their parents.
The Emiratis citizenship is not widely granted to other nationalities, because the government tries to preserve native culture, tenor of life and language from assimilation. The number of natives amounts to around 1.4 mln people – this is a bit more than 10% out of nearly 10 mln of total populace. What’s more, given the limits to the outsiders’ inflow to the country, the leaders aim to maintain a high standard of living for the Emiratis. It is known, that the government spends billions of dollars for free healthcare and education, housing loans, grants, etc., to support the native citizens.
The persons eligible for the UAE citizenship are required to be fluent in Arabic, have a legitimate source of income, hold academic certificates, outstand with good conduct and reputation. The candidates shall not have criminal backgrounds and must provide security approval. Taking the oath of allegiance is mandatory for all new citizens.
Permanent residency may be obtained by marriage a UAE national. A foreign woman married to an Emirati man may apply for naturalization if the marriage lasts for already seven years and she has one or more children. If the couple doesn’t have children, then the term is increased to ten years.
There is a popular belief, that all Emiratis are rich, because the state sits on oil deposits and oil revenues are evenly distributed among the natives, which are few. But the reality is that a big wealth in the UAE is either inherited or built by one’s own capabilities – the way it is in any other corner of the world. There are different incomes and lifestyles of people of the country.
UAE’s social programs largely support youth and retirees with grants and pensions. There are policies for empowering adults and children with disabilities. Housing benefits for deserving Emiratis include land allocation, free housing and free housing loan. But the question, if new passport holders benefit from local social system stands open till further clarification from the government’s part.
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