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Running the race debate

Balancing local and foreign interests is a hard juggling act

“Where do you come from?” is one of the most common questions I am asked and answer on an almost daily basis while living in Dubai as an expat.

Sometimes the answer is not always straightforward. Many times it could go something like this: My mother is Iranian-Jordanian, my father is British but lives in Cyprus, was born in the UK, went to university in the US, grew up in Egypt and now lives in the UAE.

Therefore, issues such as citizenship, residency and foreigners are always a massive can of worms and usually lead to pretty heated comments on arabianbusiness.com and in homes and cafes across the region.

This week, a leading rightwing thinktank in London has proposed radical plans to stop rich overseas residents who live outside the EU buying British houses, London’s The Guardian reported.

The concern, they say, is middle and lower earners are being forced to pay high rents in the capital city because they can't afford to buy due to the prices rising as a result of these rich foreigners outbidding each other to get on the London property ladder.

While the UK is looking to get tough, Malta is going the other way and looking to attract rich overseas investors who are willing to pay just over $1 million into the island state in return for a European passport. Dozens of wealthy Gulf residents, including royalty, have expressed their interest in signing up for the scheme, which has proved controversial.

"You cannot put a price tag on EU citizenship," a spokesperson said on behalf of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

At the same time, you read in the British papers about foreigners coming to UK shores and taking jobs away from residents who are then left unemployed and a drain on the British social welfare system.

However, a report late last month found that a high proportion of foreign expats living in the UK are actually students who pay high fees and help to fund the British university system.

A new research report published by Finaccord calculated that there were about 1.19 million expatriates from other countries living in the UK in 2013 as opposed to around 1.16 million UK expatriates in other countries, a net difference of approximately 30,000.

However, looking in detail at who these expatriates are shows that there are some significant variations between these 'exported' and 'imported' expatriates. It found 58.3 percent of UK expatriates residing abroad are classified as individual workers, 23.5 percent as retired expatriates, 4.6 percent as students and 4 percent as corporate transferees, with the balance of other expatriates (defined as non-employed spouses and children) making up the residual 9.5 percent.

In contrast, foreign expatriates living in the UK break down between individual workers at 46.4 percent, students at 38.4 percent, corporate transferees at 5.1 percent, retired expatriates at three percent and others (defined as before) at 7.1 percent.

"By 2017, Finaccord forecasts that foreign expatriates living in the UK will have reached around 1.30 million while UK expatriates abroad will number approximately 1.21 million, meaning that the net difference will have widened to almost 90,000," concluded Finaccord's Tobias Schneider.

"Nevertheless, much of the growth in expatriates resident in the UK will be due to overseas students. Indeed, this strong inflow of foreign students means that higher education in the UK receives more funding from overseas than that of any country in the world apart from the US, which must surely be beneficial to the UK economy," he added.

Funnily, you don’t hear so much in the UK press about the 1.21 million British expats living abroad taking jobs away from those locals.

“Citizenship is not something which is to be treated lightly,” a Maltese opposition politician told me last week. When it comes to debates about citizenship and race, it is always anything but light and getting the balance right is one which politicians around the world are always going to struggle with.

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Posted by: A former resident

Like advanced countries, eg. Hong Kong, just issue permanent residency cards after 7 years legal residence to people in senior professions, after a criminal check from their country of nationality (the self employed already sponsor themselves). Allow them to sponsor 1st degree relatives and let them buy a residential property anywhere in the state. There would be a less transient and bigger core community, willing to put down roots and invest here for the real long term, as in all civilized societies. In Hong Kong, PR does not have any relationship with naturalization, is limited by category and does not give recourse to public funds. People pay to stay and it's worked for decades. The population is not going to get bigger without more jobs so the imbalance will be the same anyway. I'm British, grew up & worked in the UAE for 25 yrs but just moved to Greece with my parents precisely because of the lack of a future and the fact that most friends from when we came have long since gone.

Posted by: Billy

I have lived here for 22 years but I don't want UAE citizenship. I am British and will always remain so irrespective of where I live. I also think it is unreasonable to expect citizenship handouts in this way. However, I would really appreciate some form of recognition for the part I have played here over the years in an extended residency visa of say 5 or even 10 years so that I can at least feel a little more secure. That I feel would be a just reward.

Posted by: Budaiya Bahrain

Billy I must say that what you say makes perfect sense. As a GCC national I would want the measures adopted across all GCC countries. We in Bahrain do make it easier for (certain) expats to come to work and then retire. Long term residency should be given to those who can support themselves and have contributed to the growth of our nations.

Posted by: Critical

GCC will never be able to solve the problem of balancing between locals and expats. Even if they try to, the work has to be done at the grass roots level for which the local population is not ready to grasp.

Also local population in countries like UAE, Kuwait, Qatar is far lesser than expats. To run a country you need people and people need rights. I believe its time for GCC states to understand this reality that for them to sustain for longer prosperous future, they should start giving citizenship to expats who have been building there cities and have played a major role in the region's economies. This is a natural course to be taken and its not about killing your identity but showing the capability to accommodate the best of best breeds in there own countries.

Posted by: procan

As I post this comment Canadian laws are changing for Dual citizenship and Canadians of convenience also for Canadians born here such as loss of vote after 5 years of absents. Also and the most import change the Government of the day will now have a legal right to terminate any Canadians not born here when there is cause to Canadian interest. Canadians who are involved in foreign wars or terrorist activety shall now face criminal justice system here in Canada. Children born here buy foreigners shall not receive automatic citizenship. And much more. No Canadian born and raised here shall ever be turned out! Go Canada Sochi Russia

Posted by: Doug

The issue in London is nothing to do with expats

In the UK, as far as I'm aware, there are no restrictions on who can own a property providing they can pay for it. As London real estate has been seen as a safe investment, the result has been that foreign buyers (typically from the Middle East, Russia and China) have bought vast swathes of property in the British capital purely as an investment - property that then typically isn't even rented out, which then drives up rents for actual residents. London property also provides a very convenient way for certain individuals to launder their money.

These people aren't expats - they don't live in the UK. They may visit for business purposes but they're not after citizenship, they're after an investment and treat buying property like buying bullion. It is completely disingenuous to compare these people to expat workers and students in the UK, who contribute to the British economy rather than freezing residents out of the property market

Posted by: leo50

excellent observation.

Posted by: William Huggs

UAE should start looking into giving rights to people who have lived in Dubai for 20 years . They paid a important role in building the country

Posted by: mumeen

GCC should also do the same. I suggest that for any expat who lived in GCC for more than 15 years.

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