Abu Dhabi, in conjunction with wider initiatives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is launching a new programme called ‘Thrive in Abu Dhabi’, aimed at expats in the region. But what is this new programme, and how does it relate to the UAE’s ‘Golden Visa’? We take a look at these recent initiatives below.
Despite the trend of increasing localisation, which aims to give the first pick of jobs to Emiratis, the UAE is planning to offer citizenship to expats. This follows on from the 2019 initiative to offer 10-year ‘Golden Visas’ to high level expats. ‘Golden Visas’ are aimed at those expats who work, create, study and invest in those sectors that are developing key areas in the emirate, such as culture, healthcare, research and development, and real estate. Abu Dhabi is, in particular, focusing on:
• Financial services
• Health services
On this basis, high-level white collar professionals, such as doctors, scientists, inventors and entrepreneur investors, will largely benefit, as well as individuals with special talents, such as artists and sportspersons.
The cultural side of this initiative emerges from Abu Dhabi’s five-year Culture Sector Strategy for Abu Dhabi. This was unveiled in November 2019 by the Department of Culture and Tourism, and covers five strategic objectives:
• Preserve and sustain Abu Dhabi’s cultural heritage
• Increase awareness of, and engagement with, cultural heritage and the arts
• Stimulate creativity as a driver for education and social change
• Build and enable capacity in Abu Dhabi’s culture sector
• Contribute to economic growth and diversification
Abu Dhabi has a strong cultural and artistic sector, which features, among other institutions, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, and the Abu Dhabi Art annual fair, as well as a number of world-class museums.
‘Thrive in Abu Dhabi’ also focuses on innovation and in developing what it describes as ‘a dynamic R&D ecosystem’, which includes academic institutions, research institutes and the private sector. The emirate is aware that it lacks scientists and is taking significant steps to rectify this. The Middle East’s first research council, the Advanced Technology Research Centre (ATRC), was founded there in 2020 and includes the Technology Innovation Institute, whose seven pillars are: quantum research, autonomous robotics, cryptography, advanced materials, digital security, directed energy and secure systems.
In addition, Abu Dhabi’s accelerator programme, Ghadan 21, run by the Department of Education and Knowledge, has launched academic research grants to award AED40 million in competitive research funding to support R&D. The initiative also aims to attract students to the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence or the coding school 42 Abu Dhabi. The emirate is also home to the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Humanities. Additionally, it has recently entered the space race, and has already launched a number of satellites and sent up a probe to Mars.
Hub71 is another start-up initiative designed to support SMEs. Fintech is a focus. The state is aware that it needs to support new and emerging technologies in order to remain competitive and up-to-date.
The state has had a swift and effective response to Covid-19. Despite some issues, such as freedom of speech, which have attracted some adverse criticism internationally, it remains a popular destination for travellers and professionals alike. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have featured in the lists of the world’s top ten safest cities.
There is no application procedure as such for the new citizenship status. Instead, individuals will be nominated by state officials or royals. In order to qualify for citizenship itself, you will need to own property in the UAE and will also need to be at the very top of your profession. This differs from the ‘Golden Visa’, which offers long-term residency but not citizenship, and which is part of the ‘Thrive in Abu Dhabi’ programme.
The full list for eligibility includes:
• Investors (includes real estate)
• Student with promising scientific ability (includes high school students and university graduates)
• Special talent
• Creatives (art and culture)
• Executive directors
• Educators (in priority fields)
• PhD holders
There are two types of ‘Golden Visas’ available to investors:
• Investor visa – for those who invest in non-real estate projects and companies in Abu Dhabi
• Real estate investor visa – for those who invest in real estate in Abu Dhabi
In order to qualify for an investor visa, for 10 years, you will need to fulfil one or more of the following criteria:
• A minimum AED 2 million (c $54K or £40K) capital deposit in an investment fund/bank account inside Abu Dhabi
• Set up a company of AED 2 million or more in Abu Dhabi, or be a partner in an existing/new company with a financial contribution of at least AED 2 million
• Own/be a partner in a company that regularly pays federal government taxes of AED 250,000+ per year
Your investments must be retained for at least a two-year period after the visa has been issued. The visa includes visas for spouses, children, one advisor and one executive director, and you will also be able to sponsor a domestic worker, subject to relevant regulations.
You will need to provide:
• Official bank statements for the last six months – your bank can be in the UAE or elsewhere
• A Trade License
• A Tax Clearance Certificate
In order to qualify for a real estate investor visa, for five years, you will need to fulfil the following criteria:
• Invest in a property of a gross value of AED 2 million or over
• A minimum cash down payment of AED 2 million of the value is required for you to be eligible for the visa if the property/portfolio of properties are mortgaged
You must keep the investment for at least two years after your visa has been issued.
This visa also includes visas for spouses and children and, like with the investment visa, you will be able to sponsor a domestic worker, subject to relevant regulations.
Real estate investors will need to provide:
• Proof of real estate worth AED 2 million or more for a single/aggregate investment profile
• Proof of mortgage status (mortgaged or released)