Kanoo backs permanent visas for long-term expats

EXCLUSIVE: Leading Gulf businessman backs UAE giving visas to 'people who add value'.
SUGGESTION: Mishal Kanoo has lent his support to calls for long-term expatriates in the UAE to be granted permanent residency visas.
By Joanne Bladd
Mon 15 Feb 2010 11:14 AM

A prominent Emirati businessman has backed calls for expatriates with long-term ties to the UAE to be granted permanent residency.

Mishal Kanoo, deputy chairman of the Kanoo Group, one of the country’s largest family-run businesses, said skilled foreign workers with roots in the UAE should qualify for permanent residency.

“Someone who has been here for 30-odd years, in the country, they should naturally get residency. This is my opinion. This does not represent government policy but that is my opinion,” he told Arabian Business.

“I have no issues with residency. As long as people are coming in to add value, why not? I think anyone who is willing to come and invest in my country, why should I say no to the best and the brightest?”

Under current visa laws, expatriate workers in the UAE are sponsored by their employers. Should an employment contract be terminated, the visa will expire. UAE immigration laws prohibit unemployed expatriates from residing in the country.

Qualifying expatriates would need to pass a background check and, in a reflection of immigration policy in Europe, the US and Australia, prove their job could not be filled effectively by a UAE national, Kanoo suggested. A failure to speak Arabic, however, should not necessarily be a barrier.

“[The language]… not necessarily. You can pick it up. But I do expect there to be a background check on people, which is done in every other country, to confirm they are genuine. And if I can replace them with my own population, fine. But if I can’t replace them? Then these people are bringing benefits to the country.”

The issue of permanent residency is a hot topic in the energy-rich Gulf countries, which rely heavily on imported foreign labour to support their economies. Each of the six GCC states has flatly refused to consider extending citizenship to long-term migrant workers, partly for fear of overwhelming the minority local population.

Bahrain has said it may introduce a residency cap for unskilled expatriates later this year, which would restrict their stay in the Arab state.

Kanoo, however, dismissed fears that opening up permanent UAE residency to qualifying expatriates would engulf the local population, arguing that the percentage of qualifying workers would be small. Expatriates currently account for roughly 80 percent of the country’s population.

“Let me properly put this in perspective. If I removed the labourers, who are building the country, I’ve probably removed 20 to 30 percent of the population of the UAE,” he said.

“The question the policymakers should be looking at is whether they want to have a concentration of one population, or they want to have a spread. But that is an issue for policymakers.”

When asked whether the introduction of residency for certain expatriates is inevitable, Kanoo said: “I personally don’t see why not.”

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