UAE loosens visa rules in bid to keep top research talent

Recent changes to visa represent shift in thinking about attracting and retaining brightest graduates, says education adviser Maryam Riaz

November 30, 2022
Source: iStock

Expanding the United Arab Emirates’ 10-year “golden visa” to early career researchers and top graduates from across the world signals the country’s intent to retain global talent for the long term, according to a senior government adviser.

Under new executive regulations issued last month, the Gulf state simplified the eligibility criteria for its Golden Residence Scheme and announced new categories of people who will be able to apply for the decade-long visa.

Scientists and researchers with “high achievements in their field” based on recommendations from the Emirates Scientists Council will be offered the visa regardless of their starting salary, with candidates expected to have a PhD or a master’s from a leading global university.

High-performing students in UAE secondary schools and universities – many of whom are from immigrant families – will also be encouraged to apply for the long-term visa as part of a major push to recruit and retain highly skilled workers from across different disciplines.

Parents and children of golden visa holders can be sponsored for 10 years under the new regulations, designed to give more security to expatriate employees living in the UAE.

Maryam Riaz, adviser on academic planning to the UAE government, told Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit that the reforms represented an important shift in the nation’s visa policy.

“If you’re a published scientist with a PhD – regardless of discipline – then you’re now able to get a long-term visa,” explained Ms Riaz, speaking at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait.

“But it’s not just about bringing people to the UAE – it’s about keeping them here and offering more permanency,” she explained of the scheme, the academic track of which requires applicants to have graduated from a top-100 university.

The golden visa, which was first introduced in 2019, will now also allow holders to travel outside the UAE for an unlimited period without affecting residency, and holders may sponsor an unlimited number of support staff.

In addition, graduates from top-500 universities will also be permitted to enter the UAE on a “job exploration visa” for up to 120 days without a sponsor – replacing the previous system, which required jobseekers to arrive on a 30-day tourist visa. That might help to retain many of the country’s international graduates – the UAE has some 80,000 overseas students – who are often forced to leave after completing their studies.

“The UAE has never had this type of temporary work visa,” explained Ms Riaz. “If you failed to find a job within a month, you had to leave the country; but there are now different options available,” she added.

The widening of visas available to expatriates – which has also seen more than 30,000 golden visas issued to front-line health professionals and emergency workers in the past month – reflected the UAE’s need to retain skilled workers who have often lived for years in a country without a path to citizenship, she added.

“There is a huge dependency on international expats across Gulf states, where permanent citizens make up only about 10 per cent of the population,” said Ms Riaz.

“We want to catch some of the most promising high school and university graduates and keep them in the UAE, which means extending long-term visas to their parents and other family members.

“If not, we will see them take scholarships from New York University or other universities in the region who are also looking for the best talent.”

The expansion of the golden visa scheme in the UAE follows similar moves in the UK, which, from May, has offered two-year visas to “high potential” graduates from top-50 universities (as judged by various international rankings), with those holding a PhD from these universities able to secure a three-year permit.

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