By Moustafa Daly
During the pandemic, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s economy shrank by 6.1% in 2020, but it has since made a rebound.
A robust and open business environment, relaxed immigration policies, and a neutral political stance on the Russian war have positioned the Gulf monarchy to bounce back with a 7.9 percent growth in GDP in 2022.
One reason the UAE attained this is through its golden and investor visa programs. The golden visa, launched in 2019, is awarded to investors of over AED 2 million in real estate or businesses, accomplished artists, academics, cultural figures, and highly skilled labor, among other categories.
This golden visa has been popular, particularly after the Russian war. Over 150,000 golden visas have been issued since its launch.
“After the pandemic and during the past two to three years, the golden visa has been very popular here,” says Babak Hojjat, senior partner & CMO at Lawmaks. “It gives investors a visa that is valid up to 10 years, and they also get access to many perks and VIP services, and they don’t have to live in the UAE most of the year to maintain the visa.”
Are there more affordable ways to get Dubai residency than the golden visa?
For entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners, there are routes to gain lawful UAE residency for a much lower threshold than the golden visa, like the Dubai investor visa.
“Investors can establish a company in Dubai for as little as between $7,000 and $9,000, depending on the kind of business activity. They can include as many activities as they wish on one license as long as they’re related activities,” says Hojjat.
“Then they get an investor visa for 2-3 years. As long as they renew the business license every year, they get to keep their visas.”
What’s driving the influx of capital to the UAE?
“There’s a lot of movement into the UAE as a prosperous investment destination,” explains Hojjat. “A lot of wealthy Indians and Russians are moving here.”
The Russian influx to the UAE is merely an expression of the country’s neutrality, according to Hojjat. “The UAE is like the Switzerland of the Middle East; they don’t take sides. They also have many safeguards and money laundering regulations that their due diligence process is very solid.”
Open communication and trust between the UAE and its “very close” Western allies, he explains, ensures the country’s immigration programs pose no risk to any of its partners.
The Russians are not the only ones driving up demand for golden visas, but the UAE’s national brand as a progressive, efficient, and open business environment – which became evident during the COVID pandemic, according to Hojjat.
“After how the country dealt with COVID, being among the first countries to fully vaccinate its citizens and residents, and also among the first to open up to tourism again, many people realized how solid and efficient this country is,” explains Hojjat.
The UAE’s response to the pandemic also included swift changes to the immigration system. “For expats who maybe lost their jobs during the pandemic, the UAE quickly gave them longer periods to stay and find work; they got rid of all the complications in the immigration process,” he adds.
Will the UAE stand in the face of growing regional competition?
Around the Middle East and GCC region, many countries are following in the UAE’s footsteps by loosening immigration, business, and tourism restrictions. A notable example here is Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy. While Saudi doesn’t offer golden visas, they’ve recently launched a visitor investor visa and announced plans to open up the country further.
Similarly, Bahrain launched a “golden license” program with many similar benefits to the golden visa, albeit reserved for corporate applications. Kuwait is also reportedly mulling its own golden visa variation.
The competition, while healthy, is unlikely to lessen the appeal of the UAE to global investors and immigrants.
“The UAE and Dubai are already very well-established in the region; other countries are trying to become the new UAE,” explains Hojjat. “A big part of that success is the elaborate and solid immigration system that other countries want to replicate.”
Hojjat expects more opening up of the immigration and business sectors in the UAE. “I think this is just the beginning,” he says. “The UAE is on a path to be the fastest growing economy in the Middle East and even the world. More and more people will want to come here for tourism and business; it’s only the start.”
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