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Do expats deserve permanent visas?

Do expats deserve permanent visas?

A debate is raging over whether expatriates in the Gulf should be granted long-term residency – or even citizenship.

February 15, 2010 1:38 by

The issue of granting long-term Gulf expatriates permanent residency visas brings with it strong arguments, both for and against. And when it comes to giving expats outright citizenship, things get even more emotive.

Debate over this issue has intensified over the last few days, with three prominent Emirati commentators contributing to the discussion.

Mishaal Al Gergawi recently wrote on his blog that anyone pursuing a claim to Emirati citizenship must fully embrace the local culture. He has also called for long-term residency visas to be made available to some expatriates in the UAE.

“I think nationalising people in the UAE is crucial and must be undertaken with strict cultural rather than intellectual and financial criteria. This is not Canada,” wrote Gergawi. “To all those who complain about being here for 30 years and not being eligible for citizenship I tell you this: Your contributions are deeply appreciated and have been duly compensated for but you have not embraced the culture… and there is a culture.”

Sultan Al Qassimi, a columnist for The National, added his voice to the debate a few days later.  He argued that the “vast majority of expats would not qualify to be nationals” due to their failure to integrate with the local culture. However, he spoke in favor of a long-term residency programme: “I would prefer that those who worked and saved money in the UAE in their productive years could enjoy this wealth and spend it in the country, for instance, in the local malls, using our airports and eating in our restaurants, when they retire,” wrote Al Qassimi.

And today, Mishal Kanoo, deputy chairman of the Kanoo Group, joined the debate, calling for permanent visas for long-term expats. “Someone who has been here for 30-odd years, in the country, they should naturally get residency. That is my opinion,” he told Arabian Business.

It is hard not to agree with these respected Emirati commentators. It seems deeply unfair that expatriates who have worked for 30-plus years in the Gulf should be forced to leave when they retire.

But the question of granting expatriates outright citizenship, which brings many additional benefits on top of the right to residency, is much more complex. According to a recent report by the National Human Resources Development and Employment Authority, UAE nationals made up 24.4 percent of the total population in 1995, but this could drop to 13.3 percent of population this year. Granting citizenship to long-term expatriates would of course help combat this imbalance. But they would never, of course, be considered ‘true’ Emiratis.

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  1. Lawrence Assadourian on February 15, 2010 9:20 pm

    Citizenship and long term residency mean very little if the laws of the country do not protect these rights from the government itself.

  2. Lawrence Assadourian on February 15, 2010 9:37 pm

    Furthermore, UAE Citizenship or long term residency is, in my opinion, not feasible until a large portion of the current Emirati population or should I say future Emirati population is able to reach a measurable and sustainable level of education allowing them to take of advantage of equal opportunity with their brothers and sisters who originate from other parts of the world.

    Last but not least, I personally support the initiative and subsequent articles on the subject by my peers, especially them being Emirati because as a non citizen, non long term resident like myself who has lived here on and off for 30 years, it helps me hold on to the hope that I may finally call the UAE – home.

  3. Dave on February 16, 2010 12:25 pm

    I can understand why Emiratis wouldnt want to be swamped by foreigners from different cultures and its their right. What I dont understand is:

    1) Why does citizenship have to be defined by something as restrictive as “accent”, or “food” (cue points made by Sultan and others previously, saying expats “dont eat like us” etc)? The average Emirati hardly eats anything poles apart from what many expats eat.

    2) When Sultan blames people for not adopting the culture, does he know that expats are discouraged, sometimes directly , and sometimes indirectly from copying local culture. So why blame them when they dont adopt it? For e.g. I have heard that Non Gulf citizens cant wear the Gulf headdress .

  4. M Jacob on February 16, 2010 3:50 pm

    Permanent residence or citizenship may be offered to exceptional individuals who have contributed to the development of the UAE. Majority of the expats who have been in the UAE for more than 20 years are more opportunists than contributors.

  5. De Wood on February 16, 2010 10:42 pm

    In the 1990, the expat employees of Dubai Municipality were SPECIFICALLY asked not to dress like UAE nationals.

    They were asked not to wear the white kandoora, etc…and stick to their pants, etc.

    I know this is not true today, as no one would probably stop you from wearing or dressing like a national.

    This debate needs balance…and the time has certainly come.

  6. Andrew on February 17, 2010 7:26 am

    Whilst I can say that about half my friends are Emirati, but that’s only due to the fact I’ve lived here for over half my life, including half of my schooling. For those who come here later in life it’s often difficult to become social with Emiratis since a significant proportion of them have no interest in mixing.

  7. Sleepless in Sharjah on February 20, 2010 12:39 pm

    How can Jacob implicate majority of expats as opportunists rather than contributors? how do you think buildings, construction and engineering activities began in the UAE? because of expats and their experiences and knowledge. for the asians from the Indian subcontinent as well as the far east, for the Arab expats- yes, we’re here to earn money because we can earn a higher income (or was the case until recently, see India for eg) here rather than back home, if you call that being opportunistic- hell the world’s population is no different is it?
    some western expats come here to earn a tax-free income and avoid going back because they cant reconcile with paying taxes again in their home countries, so stay on until retirement perhaps or move around other tax-free countries. are they opportunists?- perhaps.

    Integration with Emirati culture can only happen if the Emiratis were our primary points of contacts in day to day scenarios, service staff/supervisor at a restaurant, taxi driver, other customer service professionals, etc. but they’re not. as far as culture is concerned, i know that Emiratis themselves are concerned that their local culture is eroding as the Emirati youth is fast embracing western cultures and globalisation has become inevitable for them, so how are expats then expected to embrace a culture that is struggling to be preserved?


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