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 kippreport
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.