In April 2022, the UAE announced a raft of new visas and residency permits that are expected to benefit the country’s economy while attracting and retaining new talent and skilled workers from all over the world.
Some of these options, such as the Golden Visa, the Green Visa for freelancers and self-employed, and the remote work residence permit, are especially suited to self-employed and start-ups as they don’t require a UAE sponsor or employer, which was an essential UAE residence requirement in the past.
Additionally, the retirement residence visa and the real estate owners’ residence options also offer the possibility of making the UAE a long-term base while working for yourself.
The new visas aim to attract global talent and investment for the UAE’s economic development plans as part of the “Projects of the 50” campaign, commemorating the country’s 50th anniversary and outlining a roadmap for the country’s future growth and strategic development in the next 50 years.
A context to these changes: The current expatriate population of the UAE stands at 8.8 million -- approximately 89 per cent of the total population. Previously, all residents who were not UAE or GCC nationals needed to have a sponsor for their residency, subject to renewal after a maximum of three years.
However, the visa amendments, which began in 2019, offer expatriates new paths for long-term residence. The UAE’s latest rules are a complete overhaul of the previous visa residence systems.
The latest visa changes are the most extensive set of reforms and updates to the UAE’s residency schemes, focusing on the new 5-year Green Residence visa that offers longer, flexible grace periods to stay in the country, even after the residence permit is cancelled or expired.
According to the UAE cabinet: “The Green Visa aimed at exceptional talents, skilled professionals, freelancers, investors, and entrepreneurs will bring in new talents and skilled workers and foster a higher sense of stability among UAE residents and their families. The new system aims to attract and retain global talent and skilled workers from around the world and increase the competitiveness and flexibility of the labour market.”
Under the Green Visa, a person can sponsor their family members, including sons until age 25 and unmarried daughters, regardless of their age, to live in the UAE. Children of determination are granted a residence permit regardless of age.
As the Green Visa is not related to work permits, it will allow those whose visa has expired or those who have lost their jobs to remain in the UAE for 180 days, compared to the general grace period of 30 days. This is a significant incentive as most visas are currently tied to employment.
Green visas for freelancers and self-employed
The 5-year residency for freelancers and self-employed individuals does not require a sponsor or employer and supports the flexible work model. The applicant will first need a freelance/self-employment permit from the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation to get the visa. Eligibility requirements include education up to a bachelor’s degree or a specialised diploma. An annual income of not less than Dh360,000 from self-employment for the previous two years or proof of financial solvency throughout their stay in the country is also required.
With the growing number of digital nomads, this particular visa is timely and with multiple business licensing options on offer, moving to the UAE as a freelancer promises to be a smooth journey.
Green Residence for investors or partners
This residence permit is introduced to encourage investment, providing a 5-year residency for investors establishing or participating in commercial activities, replacing the previous two-year validity. This is a good option for start-ups and SMEs setting up shop in the UAE.
Green Visas for skilled professionals and employees
With this visa, skilled employees can stay in the UAE for five years without a sponsor. However, the applicants must have a valid employment contract and meet the minimum educational and salary criteria. Freelancing is also an option here, as a visa that is not tied to an employer provides the necessary freedom to pursue a side hustle.
It’s a five-year visa with financial criteria to be met. Once a UAE resident, a retirement visa holder can work or freelance.
Remote Work Permit
The UAE unveiled a one-year residency permit for remote workers in March 2021 to attract more talent to the region and boost business opportunities. This one-year visa allows holders to live in the UAE while working for an employer outside the UAE and freelancing or setting up their business in the UAE as a side-hustle.
UAE Golden Visa
This long-term, 10-year residency is granted to investors, entrepreneurs, exceptional talents, scientists and professionals, outstanding students, graduates, and humanitarians.
The objective of the Golden Visa is to give security to talented expatriates and investors who are contributing to the UAE’s economic and social development and growth.
The recent visa changes include an expansion in the categories of highly skilled workers. They now include disciplines ranging from medicine, sciences and engineering, and technology, to business, education, law, and culture.
This category is open to talents in culture, art, sports, technology, inventors and innovators, with educational qualification, employment status, or income being no barrier. Applicants, however, require the recommendation or approval of a federal or local government entity.
Real estate investors with a property of at least AED two million can be eligible for a Golden Visa.
An entrepreneur who owns or is a partner in a start-up registered in the UAE in the category of SME, generating an annual revenue of not less than AED one million, can be eligible for a Golden Visa.
The latest research by real estate consultancy Savills places Dubai as the third-best city in the world for digital nomads to live in.
Lisbon, Portugal and Miami, USA, topped the list of the 15 best cities for long-term remote workers, based on internet speed, quality of life, climate, air connectivity and prime rents. Dubai topped its air connectivity index, with Emirates Airlines serving 100+ countries.
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the remote-working trend, with the adoption of new technologies encouraging more workers to move away from the cities or countries where their employers were based.
“Remote working enabled business owners from abroad to make Dubai their main hub,” said Helen Tatham, head of residential community sales and leasing at Savills Dubai.
All cities included in Savills’ research offer a digital nomad visa or an equivalent visa programme – the UAE offers a whole range!
The visa-related executive regulations approved by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who heads the UAE Cabinet, will come into force after 90 days from publication in the Official Gazette.
Once in effect, the new visa options will strengthen the UAE’s position, continuing to make it a preferred country to live, work, and invest in.