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Mon 15 Feb 2010 11:14 AM

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Kanoo backs permanent visas for long-term expats

EXCLUSIVE: Leading Gulf businessman backs UAE giving visas to 'people who add value'.

Kanoo backs permanent visas for long-term expats
SUGGESTION: Mishal Kanoo has lent his support to calls for long-term expatriates in the UAE to be granted permanent residency visas.

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.”

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

Ram Muthaiah 10 years ago

I totally agree with Mr. Kanoo's comment, since it has a longer vision and the move will be a definite assertive one if adopted by the policy makers. UAE is known to more expat friendly country and i hope the permanent residency system will be soon implemented in to the system.

Ron 10 years ago

Sound all nice and dandy, but its kinda a shame that he is only pushing it for the "skilled" workforce. I mean these skilled people are more than likely to be relocating withing a few years if not months for better contractural terms in some neighbouring gulf region whereas on the flip side there are a number of people who have been born and raised in this country and have put much more into it and would put more once given some sort of assurance of long term stay. I think these people should be considered as well. I for starters would love a PR and that would definitely make me take high financial risks in long term investments.

Akber Jaffer 10 years ago

Mishal Kanoo's comments are commendable and a think tank should analyse the benefits vs harm that such consideration could bring about. Ideally, this can start with the business community with a clean record, no proven criminal or fraudent charges in the UAE and/or elsewhere. In order to list serious people ONLY, an amount of AED 100,000.00 per immediate family be charged- such charges if made, will bring forth the cream. For expat workers, in high income brackets an amount of AED 50,000.00 be charged. There's no harm in charges- when some developed countries also charge these fees. In addition to above, the applicants have to pay a refundable deposit of similar amount that can be encashed after a successful term of 5 years. Such consideration can also be offered to those businessmen wishing to have a permanent residence in UAE without necessarily staying in UAE. This will add another cream who have not witnessed the magic of this country: the plus point is- the real estate sector will have great benefits and we could see the end of the slump sooner than later

John 10 years ago

"If I removed the labourers, who are building the country, I’ve probably removed 20 to 30 percent of the population of the UAE,” Where does this business mogul get his figures, not from anywhere reliable.

Christian 10 years ago

This is a brave men. He is open honest and looks at the future in a fair way, Mabrouk

John Doe 10 years ago

Such a welcome comment could only be possible from someone who has seen the UAE rise to envious eyes in the last 30-40 years, and yes that's around the same time my parents and others like us have been in this beautiful country. Thank-you Mr Kanoo for speaking your heart and mind out, we expats are with you all the way....

TeeCee 10 years ago

People like Mr.Mishal are really worth for a country like UAE. More people must come forward to support this issue. This will improve the country's progress internationally.

suresh babu 10 years ago

Its a wonderful and wise decision Mr. Kanoo. Being an ex-employee of Kanoo Group in Dammam, I really appreciate for such a welcome comment.

Mohamed Abdulla 10 years ago

I support Mtr. Mishal Kanoo that an investyor, like me, who spent 30 years in this country and have a house with regular income from investment and have good roots here should be granted permanent residence Visa to serve this country we loved and to spend our money here than inb other country.

Sumaira 10 years ago

At long last someone from the Emirati community is talking about 'inclusion', and recognising the fact that there are some hardworking expat families who have served this country for years and over two to three generations. My own paretns came here over 36 years ago. Now my children are in the workforce of UAE serving various sectors. UAE is our home! where do we go? we belogn nowhere - not in our own country as we never lived there but hold only the passport and not here due to the local residency laws! We ahve given our sweat and blood to this country, set up businesses, bought property, and invested in the country's growth and there are many like us! Will the Rulers of Dubai be able to introduce sweeping reforms to recognize these lost generations like ours? or we have to migrate now to a 3rd country to fully belong somewhere? Mr.Kanoo you give us hope!!