The cabinet set out changes to the country’s visa system on April 18, announcing a significant revamp of its golden residence system which allows foreigners to live and work in the UAE for up to 10 years without sponsorship.
The government has expanded the pool of eligibility for these long-term visas and will also allow golden residence holders to sponsor family members to join them in the country, with changes expected to come into effect later this year.
A statement released by Emirates News Agency said the new system is aimed at “attracting and retaining global talents and skilled workers” and “boosting the competitiveness” of the UAE’s job market.
The country has signalled this focus on attracting talent by introducing a specific golden visa for outstanding graduates from the best 100 universities worldwide.
It will take additional criteria into account when considering applications from this group, including academic performance, graduation year and university classification.
“It highlights the importance that governments and employers are placing on reputable, quality education”
The rating system has been developed by the UAE’s education departments, in conjunction with the QS world ranking system, which looks at factors including teaching, research and employability.
“The UAE’s visa program highlights that university rankings are an important part of the toolkit in understanding comparative university performance in a global context,” said Leigh Kamolins, director of analytics and evaluation at QS.
“In addition, it highlights the importance that governments and employers are placing on reputable, quality education for enabling career mobility and driving knowledge economies.”
High-performing students at UAE schools and “outstanding” graduates from UAE universities are also eligible to apply for golden visas.
“The recent changes that the UAE government has introduced have definitely been welcomed with quite a lot of open arms,” said Abeer Husseini, partner at immigration law firm Fragomen.
Husseini said that the changes to the country’s visa system over recent years mark a “shift from immigration that was based on a sponsorship model to a self-sponsored model”.
At the end of last year, the UAE government announced its Centennial 2071 vision, which focuses in part on the creation of a “diversified knowledge economy” through investments in science and entrepreneurship.
Husseini believes that the new visa system will contribute to that goal, creating “flexibility for that pool of talent to be more accessible in the UAE and in the region”.
“Having a long-term residency is definitely the cherry on top”
The announcement comes as countries around the world make competing bids for graduates, with the UK announcing a new, “highly-selective” visa scheme also based on university rankings commencing at the end of May.
Speaking further about UAE’s use of rankings, Kamolins said that QS spends “a lot of time helping people understand how best to interpret and, where appropriate, use our data responsibly and would welcome the opportunity to do so in cases like this”.
Canada introduced a temporary extension to its post-graduate work visas last week in an effort to plug labour shortages, while Finland has begun offering residence permits to the families of international students.
“There’s a lot of other factors that make the UAE attractive,” said Husseini, “whether it’s the high quality standard of living, the security it provides, the modern infrastructure. But having a long-term residency is definitely the cherry on top.”