In a major overhaul of visa and employment rules, the UAE has announced a modern and effective system for both businesses and workers, one that removes some restrictive regulatory and financial burdens, and immediately provides a welcome boost of more than Dh14 billion into the national economy.

The UAE is a nation that has never stood still, never settled for the status quo, and is never satisfied with second best. These comprehensive measures together provide a quantum leap for the UAE economy, setting it on a new course for growth, optimism and development. They are measures that are progressive and timely, showing that this is a nation with a leadership, cabinet and government that is focused on the welfare of all. As a nation in which at least 80 per cent of the workforce are expatriates tied to visa schemes, any slight change has an immediate and significant effect on all. But the changes outlined by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, are truly revolutionary, and both individuals and businesses alike will benefit. So too tourists, jobseekers and those between work.

Immediate infusion

Under the old system, any company that wanted to hire an expatriate had to provide a monetary guarantee of Dh3,000 for every worker. That fee is now abolished, with the Dh3,000 deposit to be returned to companies. That alone provides an immediate infusion in real-hard cash to companies — money that will be re-invested in new machines, new technologies, new trucks, new businesses, new workers and new jobs. This frees up a significant amount of cash and provides an immediate spur to the national economy.

In contrast to the monetary guarantee scheme, a new low-cost insurance policy is being introduced, costing just Dh60 per year per employee. The legislation allows for this annual fee to cover the workers’ end of service benefits, vacation allowance, overtime allowance, unpaid wages, return air ticket and cases of work injury, in which the insurance coverage amounts to Dh20,000 per person. If this change alone was the only one in the new scheme, it would be radical enough. It’s not — and the UAE Cabinet went further in totally overhauling the visa scheme in one fell swoop. Straightaway, the measure will return Dh14 billion to employers, freeing up capital for re-investment.

The changes outlined by Shaikh Mohammad will also modernise the renewal of visas, providing a modern and convenient method, while also creating a more competitive environment. “Visa runs” will be a thing of the past — they will be able to be renewed without the need for leaving and re-entering the country under the legislative procedures approved by the UAE Cabinet. Significantly too, those who have overstayed in the country beyond the expiry of their visas will now be able to depart voluntarily without incurring a ban. Both these measures are progressive and a welcome step. But this radical overhaul includes more. For those who have lost their jobs, there is indeed good news.

Practical measures

The changes provide for a six-month temporary visa at no fee to help anyone who has lost their job to find a new one. This represents a practical and compassionate measure that allows them to continue to plan and continue making a positive contribution to their community and home. As Shaikh Mohammad noted, the new legislation will support the UAE’s goal of remaining in the highest global rankings in the ease of doing business. The measures meet these goals in making the UAE more attractive and provides a workforce arrangement that is modern, progressive, open and attractive though the low-cost administrative and insurance charges introduced. The measures too will boost UAE productivity rankings, making businesses run smoother, more profitably and smarter.

The UAE too has always valued education and knowledge as key drivers in providing the impetus of growth and prosperity. Diversification of the economy can only occur from a workforce that is based on innovative technologies and varied disciplines. To that end, the new legislative measures also provide for two-year visas for “talented and outstanding” students to remain in the UAE after graduation.

Another new measure also provides transit tourists with 48-hour visas without charge, allowing them to visit and sample the best this nation has to offer while injecting cash into local economies. The changes outlined by Shaikh Mohammad are indeed comprehensive, far-reaching and will have an immediate effect on this nation. Indeed, these legislative measures approved by the UAE Cabinet, combined with others announced by Abu Dhabi to spur its economy on by Dh50 billion over three years, and last week by the Executive Council in Dubai to freeze private school fees, drop and amend fee schedules, introduce changes to the aviation charges and overhaul land registration fees, together represent a very real, concrete and determined effort to ensure this nation continues on its upward economic trajectory and march of progress.