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As part of a post-coronavirus economic recovery attempt, a number of Gulf countries have introduced new immigration measures to help attract skilled foreign workers.

One of the main players on this front has been the United Arab Emirates, which is launching 50 new projects and initiatives to boost diversification efforts.

The first tranche of 13 initiatives was announced in early September. Along with measures that will expand the UAE’s tech sector – for example, the launch of a Fourth Industrial Revolution network and plans to train new coders – these included two new visas.

The first is the Green Visa, which will be open to highly qualified professionals, as well as investors, entrepreneurs and students. The second is a self-employed visa, the first to be offered by the United Arab Emirates.

These visas are in part intended to respond to a problem that has been highlighted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Foreign workers are a cornerstone of the UAE’s economy, constituting nearly 90% of its total population. However, visas have traditionally been tied to a specific employment contract, giving workers a grace period of just 30 days after that contract has expired or been canceled.

This means that nearly 10% of the population left the country at the height of the pandemic, an exodus that has had a significant impact on the economy at large.

In contrast, the green visa allows workers to stay in the country for up to 180 days after losing or quitting a job, giving them time to find another. In addition, green visa holders will be able to sponsor their parents and other family members to join them.

These characteristics will increase a worker’s sense of security and stability, encouraging them to settle in the country, rather than simply terminating a contract.

Meanwhile, the freelance visa is intended to attract younger workers who are more accustomed to flexible, non-traditional approaches to work – approaches that the previous visa regime had campaigned against.

In this sense, this visa represents an attempt to attract the new generation of “digital nomads“who has emerged from the pandemic, and who is currently being courted by a series of emerging markets, as detailed by OBG. These workers also bring with them the skills needed to spur the development of the UAE’s tech sector.

These new visa offers follow several related developments. A new renewable five-year retirement visa was announced in August 2020, while in December the eligibility criteria for the coveted Golden Visa were broadened to include people with doctorates, engineers, investors. and graduates of accredited universities.

Meanwhile, at the end of 2020, Abu Dhabi launched its own two-year renewable freelance license, available to citizens, residents and non-residents.

Tellingly, one of the groups this license caters to are qualified people who have lost their jobs but wish to stay in the UAE.

A regional trend

While the UAE has taken the most steps to attract foreign workers, some of its neighbors have also taken steps to bring in expert expatriates – bearing in mind the need to train a new generation of domestic workers.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, Saudiization efforts have intensified, but authorities have also worked to ensure that the Kingdom is seen as an attractive destination for highly skilled foreigners.

To this end, the government recently introduced a temporary working visit visa, while its immigration sponsorship system has been amended; among other expatriate-friendly changes, foreign workers will now be able to move from employer to employer in the private sector.

In Oman, a similar change came into effect in January this year, while in May, Oman’s Ministry of Labor announced that foreign workers can now enter the country on a visitor visa and convert it more. late in work visa.

Oman also announced a new visa, called the Investment Residency Program. This will provide renewable five and ten year residency visas to foreign investors who contribute to key sectors such as tourism, real estate, education, health, information and technology.

However, other countries in the region have taken the opposite approach, reducing the flexibility of their respective immigration regimes in order to increase employment opportunities for nationals.

In Kuwait, foreign nationals over the age of 60 without a university degree can no longer renew their residence permit, while family members of an expatriate – as well as foreign spouses of Kuwaiti nationals, among others – saw the duration of their renewable residence permit reduced from two years to one.

A nice balance

This variety of approaches reflects different views on how best to maintain a balance between creating job opportunities for nationals and hiring the best foreign talent.

The region’s economies are stepping up their diversification efforts, with the Covid-19 pandemic being just the most recent global crisis to highlight the dangers of over-reliance on hydrocarbons.

Diversification requires a rapid increase in skills of local workers, as well as the development of local innovation ecosystems. At the same time, however, foreign expertise is needed in various sectors to ensure optimized growth.

“For Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, the adoption of more restrictive or more open visa rules is the result of a careful balance of goals regarding the nationalization of the workforce, with goals related to the attraction of foreign talent ”, Abdulrahman Bin Sulaiman Almohaimid, CEO of Abdal Human. Resources, OBG said.

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