As part of the UAE's efforts to attract new classes of investment and talent, with the aim to support the innovative economy, the UAE laws regulating residency visas has witnessed relatively unprecedented changes allowing expats, for the first time, to obtain long term residency visas for up to ten (10) years without the need for a sponsor, befittingly referred to as the 'golden visa'.
New Residency Visas
Previously, with the exception of investors in real estate in Dubai (of one million Dirham and above) who were eligible for two years residency visa without a sponsor, an expat could only obtain a residency visa by being sponsored through a company (as a shareholder or as an employee), by joining an education institute or through a family member (first degree relative with some restrictions). These visas are usually limited to two or three years and are always linked to a sponsor. However, under the new rules, expats and their direct family members will be eligible for a ten (10) year golden residency visa without the need for a sponsor, provided that the expat has an investment in the UAE amounting to or exceeding AED 10 million. In this regard, it shall be noted that the investor must own the invested amount and it cannot be a loan. In addition, out of the AED 10 million, up to 40% can be from real estate. Similarly, accredited individuals with specialized talents and researchers in scientific and various knowledge fields can be eligible, with their spouse and children, for a 10-year residency visa without the need for a sponsor. This will include but is not limited to doctors, scientists, inventors, and executive directors, provided that they meet the conditions stipulated in the Cabinet Resolution No. 56/2018.
Further, a property investor with an investment exceeding AED 5 million can apply for a five (5) year residency visa, without the need for a sponsor. In addition to the aforementioned, an entrepreneur owning a previous successful business with a value not less than AED 500,000 in specific fields, or an entrepreneur holding an approval from an approved business incubator can be eligible, with his family members, to a five (5) year residency visa. The aforementioned residency visas require the applicants to hold a valid medical insurance, and these visas can be renewed, under the condition that the applicant continues to meet the conditions required to qualify for the visa.
New Rule for Sponsoring Family Members
On a separate front, and taking into consideration that more and more expats are seeing the UAE as a longer-term place, the UAE's rules concerning a male expat sponsoring his wife and children have been subjected to amendments. Now, a man earning a basic salary of AED 4,000 can sponsor his wife and children irrespective of his profession. Under the previous rules, certain professions were not eligible to sponsor a family member irrespective of the salary of the professional.
Work Permits for Sponsored Males
Under a separate amendment to the applicable rules, males sponsored by their family members will now be eligible to obtain work permits allowing them to work for mainland companies without the need to transfer their sponsorship. Under the previous rules, it was required for a man, sponsored by his wife and willing to work, to transfer the sponsorship from the wife to the employer. This new system will reduce the businesses financial burden, as it will allow them to benefit from the domestic talents rather than recruiting people from overseas.
Residency Visas for Widowed and Divorced Women
A further welcomed change was the introduction of a one year visa for divorced women, widows and their dependent children. This was primarily aimed at providing the widowed or divorced expat woman the opportunity to remain lawfully in the UAE without the need for a sponsor for one year from the date of death of the sponsoring husband or divorce. The woman must submit with her visa application evidence of her ability to earn a living and adequate housing in order to obtain approval. This visa is a one-time only renewable visa and applies to women irrespective of whether or not they have children.