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UAE rolls out plan to invest in economy, liberalize laws

Nation’s plan to lure foreign talent reflects an emerging contrast with other sheikhdoms of the Gulf, which are growing increasingly protectionist

A presenter walks off stage at an event announcing new economic programs in the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
A presenter walks off stage at an event announcing new economic programs in the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates announced on Sunday a major plan to stimulate its economy and liberalize stringent residency rules, as the country seeks to overhaul its finances and attract foreign residents and capital.

The nation’s plan to lure foreign talent over the next decades reflects an emerging contrast with the other sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf that are growing increasingly protectionist as they try to diversify their oil-bound economies. Now marking its 50th anniversary, the UAE is seeking to accelerate its economic and social reforms to rebrand for a post-pandemic future. Portraying the country as an open-minded, bustling trade and finance hub, the government promised to pour $13.6 billion into the economy in the next year and $150 billion by 2030.

“We are building the new 50 years’ economy,” Abdulla bin Touq, the economy minister, said in an interview. “Anyone who is trying to be more conservative and trying to close their markets, the value is going to be only in the short-term, but in the long-term, they’re harming their economies.”

Buried within the raft of flashy economic development initiatives on Sunday was a far more practical — and drastic — change to the country’s visa system that governs the legions of foreign workers from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere who power the country’s economy.

Since the UAE’s independence, the state has tied employment to residency status, lending employers outsized power and forcing people to immediately leave the country once they lost their jobs.

“We want to rebuild the whole system … so that the residency system is attracting people and making sure they feel the UAE is home for them,” bin Touq said. “Openness is something which we’re proud of.”

The new plans give residents an additional three months to seek other jobs after being fired, allow parents to sponsor their children’s visas until the age of 25, and ease visa restrictions on freelancers, widows and divorced people, among other things. It’s a subtle shift from the Gulf Arab state’s traditional way of treating its vast foreign labor force as an expendable underclass.

Ministers also said they sought to double the UAE’s economy in the next decade through major trade agreements with countries including Israel, Turkey, United Kingdom and India.

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