The Great Residency Debate

The UAE is once again debating the issues and implications involving the long-term residency of expatriate population in the country.

While many of the issues and questions raised are not exactly new, the fact that the UAE authorities are actively considering several options to maintain the country’s fine demographic equilibrium suggests that this is not a topic of idle drawing room debate any more.

Given the ratio of national or Emirati population and the number of expatriates – 20:80 – it is only understandable that the UAE authorities are concerned about maintaining a harmonious balance in the country.

The Khaleej Times report on the Interior Ministry’s review of residency laws and norms Thursday (April 16) should be seen against this backdrop. According to the Interior Ministry, the country as part of reviewing residency norms, could put a cap on the unbroken length for which a resident may stay in the UAE.

The government is said to be considering a number of proposals and options that could limit the period of residency for expatriate population. Also, such a cap could be applied according to professional aptitude and skills of expatriates and may not be uniform in nature. The cap could take into account the expatriates’ profession and highly skilled and professionals in demand might be granted a longer stay.

While these things are still being debated and it may be some time before all details are worked out and the ministry comes up with its recommendations, it has to be pointed out there’s nothing unusual about these measures.

Every country has its own regulations and norms to determine what kind of people it wants to welcome and keep. Even the Western nations that are held up as models of civil liberties and political empowerment have their own dos and don’ts when it comes to opening doors to foreigners. A country like Singapore, which like the UAE is home to a large expat population, has different sets of rules for skilled and semi-skilled professionals.

A residency cap for expatriate work force was first debated by the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2007, proposing a six-year limit for unskilled workers. This was essentially meant to check the growing population imbalance in the member states.

The GCC leadership shot down the proposal. However, the UAE decided to explore the idea by forming a committee that was tasked with examining if such a cap could solve the issue of demographic imbalance.

Besides, the Federal National Council’s Committee of Interior and Defence Affairs has developed a number of proposals, including one that suggests residency be renewed every six years. Another proposal plumps for a 10-year cap. Whatever the UAE leadership settles for, we are sure it would be in the national interest as well as the well being of all residents.

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