Emirates Airlines presents investment and liberalization plan

UAE Minister of International Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, prior to the UAE’s announcement to stimulate its economy in Dubai. Watch image: Jon Gambrell / AP

Yesterday, the United Arab Emirates announced a master plan to stimulate its economy and ease strict residency rules for expatriates, as part of the country’s efforts to reform its finances and attract foreign capital and residents.

The country’s plan to attract foreign talent presents a growing contrast to the other oil economies of the increasingly protectionist Persian Gulf. Although many of the reforms promised by UAE ministries are currently inaccurate, their intent to increase spending in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and relax laws to attract more residents was clear.

Finance Minister Abdullah bin Touq promised that the government would inject about $13.6 billion into the economy over the next year and $150 billion by 2030. Other ministries in the UAE introduced various reforms.

“We are confident that these investment-supportive projects will make (UAE) one of the most efficient economies in the world,” he said in the first major press conference held by the government in person since the beginning of the pandemic.

Burying in a series of flashy economic development initiatives is a more practical change in the visa regime for legions of foreign workers in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere that will boost the country’s economy.

Since becoming an independent country, the UAE has linked employment to residency, giving employers enormous power and forcing people to leave the country once they lose their jobs.

“We want to rebuild the entire system … so that the residency system attracts people and they feel that the UAE is their home,” Bin Touq said. “Openness is something we are proud of.”

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The new plans give residents an additional three months to look for other jobs after they are laid off, allow parents to sponsor visas for their children up to age 25, and ease visa restrictions on self-employed people, widows and divorcees, among other things. It is a subtle departure from the Gulf state’s traditional way of treating its huge foreign labor force as an expendable underclass.

The ministers also said they would seek to double the UAE’s economy in the next decade through major trade deals with countries such as Israel, Turkey, the United Kingdom and India.

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