If you think your property is going to get you a visa, think again.

The good old days
Until recently, many expatriates who purchased property in select areas of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain were able to obtain three-year residency permits.

In these cases, the property owners were sponsored by the UAE master development company they had bought from.

Visas with property in Dubai
When freehold property first became available to expatriates in Dubai in 2006, the emirate's three master developers - Emaar, Nakheel and Dubai Properties - facilitated the issuing of three-year renewable residence visas to owners under a special arrangement with the Department of Residency.

Visit visa proposal
Bin Galita told Gulf News that a proposal has been submitted to issue property investors a visit visa that allows them to travel in and out of the country to follow up their investments in the property market.

"The suggestion, if approved, might be implemented at a federal level, especially now that the local laws of most emirates allow foreign ownership of property. The visit visa could replace the residence visa, which was issued by some developers in Dubai for those who bought property in their projects."

Change in Dubai
This all changed earlier this year when reports of developers not issuing visas began circulating. Marwan Bin Galita, chief executive of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) told Gulf News, "Investors must understand that owning property in Dubai is not a prerequisite for having a residence visa."

Property buyers should not expect to automatically be granted a residence visa when purchasing property in Dubai, Bin Galita explained.

"There is no direct link between property ownership and residence visas. Developers should not lure investors to the property sector with promises of a residence visa."

The law
Freehold ownership in selected areas of Dubai was first introduced in May 2002, sparking the real estate boom.

The law states, "If the homeowner has no alternative means of sponsorship for a residence visa, the first owner may be sponsored by your master developer (Nakheel, Dubai Properties or Emaar) for residency in Dubai, UAE, subject to the applicable immigration laws of the country."

However, the purchase of a freehold property does not automatically qualify for a resident visa, officials say.

Those already here
More than 20,000 families have moved into their freehold homes during the last six years, some on residence visas linked to their homes.

A person will not qualify for a visa of any type in the UAE if you are a citizen of Israel, have an Israeli entry stamp in your passport or if your passport is valid for only six months or less.

Change in Ajman
Until recently, Ajman also issued visas to freehold property owners. According to a report in Gulf News earlier this month, the Ajman Naturalisation and Residency Department has stopped issuing and renewing investors' visas for freehold property owners in Ajman.

Sharjah's stance
Sharjah allows expatriates to invest in land, villa or an apartment for a maximum 99 years, but has never issued residency visas to investors.

The number
All expatriate purchasers of freehold property in the UAE are only entitled to own it for 99 years.

No work
Those who have purchased property in Dubai and qualified for a residence visa cannot work in the UAE on that visa. Furthermore, the visa is renewable every three years. If you bring your family to your residence in Dubai, then you will need to get a family residence visa.

Blair Hagkull, managing director for the Middle East at Jones Lang LaSalle, told Gulf News earlier this year that people should not rely on the master developer for their residency visas.

"Most people in Dubai are active in the workplace and so have a residency visa through their employer."

Elsewhere in the GCC
Qatar announced in 2005 that it was to offer permanent residence visas to foreigners who buy freehold properties in the country.

"The visa is issued for (an) unlimited period, not like some others who issue it for a limited period and the buyer has to continuously renew it," Akbar Al Baker, chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority and chief executive of Qatar Airways, told Gulf News.

The Pearl, an offshore development, is the first development in Qatar that offers freehold property ownership rights to local and international buyers, irrespective of nationality or country of residence.

Rak still issues visas
Ras Al Khaimah was the second emirate in the UAE to permit foreign ownership of property in the UAE, passing a freehold ownership law in November 2005.

In Ras Al Khaimah, automatic freehold visas are still issued to all buyers of freehold property. Turn to p44 to find out about one such development - La Hoya Bay's Business Village, on Al Marjan Island.