DUBAI, Sept 5, (AP): The United Arab Emirates announced on Sunday a major plan to stimulate its economy and liberalize stringent residency rules for foreigners, as the country seeks to overhaul its finances and attract visitors and investment. The nation’s plan to lure foreign talent over the next decades reflects an emerging contrast with the other sheikhdoms of the Arabian 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 a liberal, 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. Specific projects have yet to be announced, but $1.36 billion has been earmarked for Emirates Development Bank to support the industrial sector. “We are building the new 50 years’ economy,” Abdulla bin Touq, the Economy Minister, said in an interview, adding that free trade and openness have long made UAE a major global entrepot. “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.” Friction has grown between the UAE and its heavyweight neighbor Saudi Arabia, which has taken a different strategy under the young and brash Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a push to prepare for a post-oil future, the Saudi government has announced billions of dollars of investments in far-flung tourist projects and tried to diminish the role of expats to get more Saudis working in the private sector. Buried within the raft of the UAE’s 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.”