Abu Dhabi: Hundreds of families in Dubai and the northern emirates are in a race against time to relocate to Abu Dhabi as the deadline for the capital’s government employees to make the big shift ends in September.
A decision by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council last September directed all Abu Dhabi government employees to live in the capital or forfeit their housing allowance if they reside in another emirate. They were given a year’s time to comply, following which local departments, public authorities and government-owned companies duly notified their staff.
The decision is expected to impact around 10,000 employees who cannot get their residency visas renewed unless they produce a tenancy contract from Abu Dhabi.
According to statistics from the Abu Dhabi Transport Department, a total of 10,869 vehicles enter Abu Dhabi from 6am to 9am, transporting more than 16,000 passengers everyday. But with many inbound Abu Dhabi passengers shifting to the capital now, the number is set to come down.
An Indian engineer at Etihad hoped his search for a one-bedroom flat in Abu Dhabi would end this week as the relocation deadline looms large. “The tenancy contract for my Dubai flat in Discovery Gardens ends this month. So I stayed put and wanted to move only next month. But I’ve suddenly realised there’s hardly any time left. I hope I will find something suitable by this weekend,” he said.
The wife of an Abu Dhabi Airport Company (ADAC) employee said her family moved to the capital in January to avoid last-minute rush in schools. “My two children, 14 and 11, were studying in Dubai. We moved mid-year as we felt the older one, who was in Class IX, needed time to settle before getting into higher classes.”
Malik Muazzam who works with Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) and had been living in Dubai for five years, said: “I came to Abu Dhabi with my family three weeks ago. It has been a good move as I planned it well in advance. I secured a seat for my four-year-old son in a school here last year itself. My younger boy is just two and still has time.”
However, the shift is not proving easy for everyone. Many government employees said they were forced to stay on in other emirates and work round their situations to comply with the new rule. They said they could not move lock, stock and barrel because their spouses held jobs or their children were unwilling to change schools or they had dependent parents whom they could not easily move.
Daniel, a Dubai resident whose children study in Sharjah, said: “I tried to convince the authorities that my children were going to school in Sharjah and could not be easily moved but to no avail. I could not renew my visa unless I produced a tenancy contract from Abu Dhabi. So I took up a small studio close to Musaffah. It’s another matter that I have not stayed there even for a day. I am yet to get my family’s visas stamped and hope I don’t have to get a bigger accommodation.”
An agent with a property management company said there has been a huge increase in demand for studios on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi from residents in similar circumstances. “They want to continue living in Dubai, but take up another accommodation here so they can furnish the necessary tenancy contract.”
Rashid, a Sharjah resident said: “I hope the government gives us more time as an Eid concession. I have a large family to support back home and cannot afford their upkeep if I move to Abu Dhabi. The rent and school fees are far higher in Abu Dhabi than Sharjah or Dubai.”
A resident said: “I was paying Dh18,000 as annual [school] fees for my four-year-old son in Dubai. Now I have to pay Dh26,000 in the capital.”
A bachelor said a one-bedroom apartment near the Abu Dhabi Mall is costing him Dh65,000 a year as against Dh50,000 in Discovery Gardens. “I can get cheaper accommodation in Musaffah, perhaps at Dh55,000, but I would want to live in a better area,” he said.
A real estate agent said: “The situation in Musaffah is tight. There is no availability. There is a good demand in other areas like Al Reef where you can get a four bedroom villa for Dh145,000-Dh155,000. Al Reem and the city in general are also witnessing an uptake.”
As the steady influx of government employees continues, private sector employees remain unclear on whether the residency rule will apply to them.
A official of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs-Abu Dhabi (GDRFA) told XPRESS: “For now, the rule applies to only people working in government organisations and there is time till September. But it’s not right for people working in private companies to stay in the other emirates and work in Abu Dhabi. Long distance travel can affect their work. We have the best facilities in Abu Dhabi.”
A staff at the government’s call centre 800555 said the rule applies to “all employees” working in Abu Dhabi.
A staff at a typing centre near GDRFA said: “An employee working in Abu Dhabi can get his residence visa renewed despite staying in Dubai if the immigration office approves. We do the typing work only after they get such an approval. Usually, such approvals are given to residents working in private companies, not government employees.”