DUBAI // For the next several years officials will measure the country's population by counting visas issued and cancelled, births and deaths, and by using other administrative data, as plans to conduct a door-to-door census have been shelved indefinitely.
The National Bureau of Statistics said on Sunday that it believes there are 8.26 million residents in the UAE.
That figure is more than double the 4.1 million residents recorded in the last national census, in 2005, and sharply higher than recent numbers from international organisations.
The World Bank, for example, reports that the UAE had just 4.6 million residents in 2009, while according to the private research company Euromonitor, the population will not reach 6.6 million until 2030.
A national census had been expected last year, but was called off at the last minute because of "financial issues", said Khalifa al Rubaei, a spokesman for the bureau.
To arrive at the 8.26 million figure, the statistics bureau assessed the number of visas issued and cancelled in 2010, and births and deaths. This method was adopted last year with the release of the Report on Economic & Social Dimension 2009. That report suggested that the population had reached 8.07 million in 2008, almost double the 2005 census number.
"The figures we have released are estimates based on the new methodology," said Mr al Rubaei.
Paul Dyer, a demographics expert at the Dubai School of Government, said that although he was initially "shocked" by the announcement, he sees the methodology used as relatively sound.
The rise in population leading up to 2008 also "makes sense on a gut level", he said. "If you were in Dubai at that time you'd know that the population was growing like crazy," he said. "I don't see any reason to say that it's not accurate."
Door-to-door counting is often considered the gold standard in assessing population numbers, but Mr Dyer said that information collected this way may not always be 100 per cent accurate - particularly in places where dozens of people may share a small villa illegally.
"When you ask people face-to-face for information they may have reasons for not telling you the truth," he said.
And because the interior ministry keeps close tabs on individuals in the country, administrative data can be used as a good indicator, Mr Dyer added.
"In some ways the UAE is better off than other countries in this regards, as it really has a lot of information about its population," he said. "There are often records of people coming in and out of the airports and getting residency visas."
The World Bank compiles its country-by-country statistics based on data from national governments. Officials at the UAE statistics bureau are in contact with the organisation and are planning to submit the new figures.
The lag in getting figures up to date is not uncommon in Gulf states, said Mr Dyer. "Now they can show where the figures come from, I'm sure the World Bank will change its data," he said.
Embassies do keep statistics on how many of their nationals live in the country, but the numbers are usually only rough estimates based on patchy data. The British Embassy, for example, has used the figure of 100,000 for several years, but does not know the exact number of its citizens in the UAE, said Ruzina Hasan, second secretary at the consulate in Dubai.
"Some register with the embassy, but they are not obliged to do so," she said. "We are trying to get an accurate figure but it's very difficult."
Others embassies, such as the US one, gather information on their nationals from UAE authorities.
In the first census, in 1975, the UAE's population was found to be 557,887 people. A census in 1995 said the population had increased to 2.41 million. Ten years later, it had reached 4.1 million.
In February 2009 the Ministry of Economy announced that a census would be conducted in April of last year. However, that count, priced at Dh65 million, was cancelled just weeks before it was due to start.
Mr Dyer said a head count would be needed by 2015 to ensure accurate figures. "Once in a while, the standard is every 10 years, you want to do a good household-based survey that tries to count every individual … " he said. "However, there's no real argument for doing them every year as it's very expensive."