In 2018, the UAE cabinet passed visa reforms that have eased long-term residency visa requirements for a variety of high-skilled workers, students, and foreign investors. Commercial hubs in the UAE, including its third-largest city, Sharjah, are now implementing a 10-year visa scheme to lure international business leaders with aims to encourage an already-thriving investment environment and spur growth through businesses led by expatriate entrepreneurs.
More than 80% of the UAE population is composed of expatriate workers, and the decision is a bold move toward providing incentives for international talent and their families to foster long-term economic sustainability in the Gulf country. Investors along with specialists in the medical, scientific, research, and technical fields, as well as high-achieving students and creative talents from the global arts and culture community, will be eligible for a 10-year residence visa. The visa can be extended to investors' spouses and children as well as one executive director and one adviser.
“The UAE will remain an incubator for innovators and a hub for investors," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, while announcing the program. “Our open environment, tolerant values, infrastructure, and flexible legislations constitute the best plan to attract global investments and exceptional talents. The UAE will remain a land of opportunities. It is the best environment to realize the dreams of humans and unleash their exceptional potential."
The decision grants investors in the UAE with the option to pursue two categories of long-term visas. The first grants a five-year residence visa to people who invest at least AED5 million or USD1.36 million in the property market. The second grants a 10-year renewable residency visa to people who make public investments through bank deposits, an established company or business partnership of at least AED10 million (USD2.72 million), with non-real estate investments totaling no less than 60% of the total investment.
The provisions allow for participating global investors to hold 100% ownership of the companies they establish in the UAE in an effort to boost investment and diversify the UAE economy. New visa regulations have also created incentives for entrepreneurs, who can receive long-term visas for previous ventures in the UAE worth a minimum of AED500,000 or who have an accredited business incubator in the country. The benefits for entrepreneurial visas differ from the investors' benefits, as entrepreneurs are allowed a renewable, multiple-entry visa for a six-month period, which can be extended to a five-year visa if the individual meets some of requirements under investors' visa scheme.
Investor visa conditions also require investments be made solely by individual investors and cannot be loaned or transferred to business partners. Investments must also be retained for a minimum of three years with financial liability and solvency exceeding no more than AED10 million. Visa benefits may also be extended to owners and executives of leading, internationally recognized companies who seek to establish ties with the UAE business sectors.
In January 2019, the UAE's Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (FAIC) began granting long-term residence visas to an initial group of 20 expats. The group included leading researchers and engineers. The government believes that will contribute to an innovative and competitive investment environment in the UAE's global business hubs such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.
High-achieving students are also included in the new residence visa scheme, which opens future residence opportunities for individuals who complete their studies in the country. Graduates of UAE universities with a grade point average of at least 3.75 will qualify for five-year visas, which can be extended to family members.
Overall, the UAE government is seeking to establish a long-term residence system similar to the green card or permit residence status professionals can acquire in the US. Officials aim not only to attract international talent that will shape the economy moving forward, but also foster a more attractive business environment to bolster foreign direct investment.
In addition to minimum investments, full ownership opportunities promoted by the investor visas will spur job creation for UAE nationals, creating a more robust economy with diverse economic actors working in sync to give cities like Sharjah an edge over competing commercial hubs in GCC countries.