The expat dilemma: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’
Analysts are bullish on the UAE economy. But for many expatriates, the decision to stay or head home depends on complex cultural and personal issues, and not just financial concerns.
April 27, 2010 3:44 by Katherine Azmeh
SHOULD I GO?
Last year, American Public Media (APM), a non-profit public radio enterprise, interviewed expats in Dubai who had lost their jobs during the financial downturn. For some, the revocation of their visa was “another harsh fact of life in Dubai”, and one with ominous financial implications. “If they lose their jobs, their visas will be canceled, and they’ll have to get out in 30 days. The government won’t confirm how many visas have been revoked or how many expats have left,” American Public Media reported.
Default on a payment – go to jail
Given the present issues surrounding billions in restructured debt, the notion of going to jail for a bounced check may strike you as more than a little ironic. But to be sure, debt laws in Dubai are no laughing matter. The APM interview ran the comments of a representative of the local Human Rights Association, who explained something that can come as quite a shocking wakeup call for many expats: “If I default on my car loan, I go to jail. I think it’s utterly stupid, and we really should change these practices. It is such draconian, old laws that we really need to reform.”
“If we lived in Dubai, we could get arrested for this,” Kipp overheard an American say to his dinner companion as she leaned over to kiss him in an outdoor café in downtown Beirut. He wasn’t kidding, of course: Charlotte Adams, a 25-year-old British tourist was recently convicted of indecency after being reported for kissing a man in a restaurant. Adams is just the latest expat to have fallen foul of the UAE’s decency laws. While most expats adhere to such laws and many agree with them, the ‘sexpat’ press scandals have still acted to tarnish the view of UAE life for many foreigners.
Freedom of press
Press restrictions affect not only journalists working in the UAE, but also access to information for the expats who reside there. Media reporting on economic matters, and investigative or critical reporting of the government, do not enjoy the same liberties as found in the west. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have criticized the UAE over its record on press freedom.
Not among peers
Many expats report the pervasive feeling of being an outsider in the UAE. This sentiment was echoed by one Indian ad-copy writer who was interviewed by American Public Media. “I don’t think I would like to come back here because to not feel wanted is a feeling that you really can’t get rid of so easily. It will be a difficult decision for me to come back here,” she explained.
Rights for laborers
Human Rights Watch last year announced that, while the UAE government has moved to improve housing conditions for laborers, and ensure the timely payment of wages, the government still has remaining labor abuse issues to resolve. The organization urged international institutions planning to open branches on the island – including the Guggenheim, New York University (NYU), and the French Museum Agency (responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi) – to obtain enforceable contractual guarantees that construction companies will protect workers’ fundamental rights on their projects.
Do you live in the UAE? What are your impressions of expat life? Have your say by submitting a comment below.