UAE to offer high-skilled migrant workers long-term visas

The UAE has announced sweeping changes to its visa system with sought-after key workers such as doctors, engineers and their families now eligible for 10-year residential visas.

Specialists working in medicine, science, research and technical fields will also be eligible. And students will be able to secure five-year visas and “exceptional” graduates could remain in the country for 10 years. At present, students must apply to renew their visa each year.

However, no visa changes were announced for the vast majority of migrant workers, who are lower-skilled workers from places such as the subcontinent.

Other major changes include allowing investors to own 100 per cent of a company based in the Emirates. At present, companies are required to have a local partner that owns 51 per cent of the business. Only those based in free zones can be 100 per cent foreign-owned.

Government departments have been told to work on implementing the residency changes by the end of 2018.

The changes were outlined in a Cabinet meeting chaired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, on Sunday.

“The UAE will remain a global incubator for exceptional talents and a permanent destination for international investors,” said Sheikh Mohammed. He said an “open environment, tolerant values, infrastructure and flexible legislation are the best plan to attract global investment and exceptional talents to the UAE”.

According to human rights groups, migrant workers, who comprised the vast majority of the private workforce, continue to face exploitation and abuse. They remain tied to employers under the “kafala” sponsorship system and are denied collective bargaining rights. Trade unions remained banned and migrant workers who engage in strike action face deportation and a one-year ban on returning to the UAE.

Moreover, workers remain vulnerable to employers accusing them of overly broad and vague crimes such as “failing to protect their employer’s secrets”, which carry fines of up to $27,225 or a six-month prison sentence.

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