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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

UAE targets sustainable growth with foreign ownership and visa reform

Changes will stimulate real estate sector and increase the country’s competitiveness

The UAE’s announcement of major changes to its residency and foreign ownership laws this week was met with a unanimously positive response.

From the Pakistani businessman who made the UAE his home decades ago and lamented his inability to own 100 per cent of his company until now – to the many real estate investors wishing their tenants were in situ for longer, the news was hailed as a positive step forward for the country’s long-term economic development.

“Residency has been one of the flash points for people like me who have their roots here,” businessman Abid Ali told The National, echoing the sentiments of hundreds of UAE residents keen to take a more committed stake in their country.

Under the plans announced on Sunday, foreign investors will be able to own 100 per cent of a company in the UAE – a significant departure from the current policy that restricts foreigners to a 49 per cent stake in entities outside free zones, requiring them to forge partnerships with Emirati stakeholders. The government will also grant residency visas of up to 10 years to some investors and professionals, compared to the current maximum of three years, to help spur inward investment. The new rules apply to specialists in medical, scientific, research and technical fields, and will also offer five-year visas to students and 10-year visas to “exceptional” students.

The latest measures will invariably augment the UAE's achievements, add depth to its economy, help it cultivate and attract new talent that further enhances its knowledge base and boosts the country's competitiveness.

As law firm Clyde & Co. said the new foreign ownership laws are a potential “game changer” for the thousands of foreign businesses operating in the country. They will give security to existing businesses and encourage foreign direct investment.

The visa changes could, as the Japanese lender MUFG said, "remove the transitory mindset of certain expats," which in turn helps the country retain a larger portion of the $45 billion repatriated by foreigners to their home countries. That will boost consumption and fuel economic growth.

Some of the UAE’s most prominent real estate developers, including Nakheel and Danube Properties, also applauded the new rules, saying they would have a positive impact on the UAE property market. In particular, the changes are likely to stimulate the owner-occupier market, as more residents seek longer term housing by purchasing their homes or renting on longer leases, experts said.

The rules set to come into force at the end of this year, will usher in a new era of sustainable economic growth.