x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

New regulations on residency visas may prove impractical

There's a bureaucratic nightmare brewing in the new requirements about tenancy contracts and visa renewal.

In all the years that I have spent in the UAE, I've rarely been tempted to dabble in the local stock markets, although I do have a bit invested overseas. This week, though, I wonder whether I should take a look at Etisalat. The recent announcement that all Abu Dhabi expatriate residents who are renewing residence visas must produce evidence that there is a telephone land line registered to their flat, alongside a whole host of other new regulations.

Almost everyone has at least one mobile phone, and I suspect that many people never bother with a land line at home. I have one, but in the 18 months my family and I have been living in our current flat, I've never used it. I never even answer it if it rings, since the call is never for me.

As a result of this new rule, how many thousands of people will now have to apply for land lines? That's got to have a beneficial effect on Etisalat's bottom line.

Does this new rule regarding phone lines really make much sense? And there are other aspects of the new regulations about renewing visas that concern me even more.

As originally reported in The National's sister paper, Al Ittihad, people seeking to renew their residence visas must produce a rental contract in their own names, along with associated bills for water and electricity.

Another article a couple of days later seemed to say something different: all the names of people residing in a flat should be listed in the tenancy contract, with one of the residents having the landline in his name.

Is this workable? Let's think about some problems that might arise in just a few hypothetical examples.

Where a single family lives in a flat, there may be an adult unmarried daughter still on her father's sponsorship who does not have an independent residence visa. What does she do?

What about a son, over the age of 18, who must have his own employment visa? Must his father include him on the tenancy contract? What about close relatives or friends who are staying at the house without paying rent? Do they have to be named in the contract as well?

What about married couples, whether they have children or not, who legally rent out a room or two in a large flat? Is each member of each family supposed to be on the rental contract?

There are, of course, other patterns of occupation - groups of single men or women who share rooms to save money, often with three, four or more people occupying a single room. Is it practical for every one of them to be named on the rental contract?

And what happens when one person leaves, or when a small group find a cheaper room somewhere else and moves on, as often happens? Is the rental contract supposed to be changed several times a year?

What about individuals or families living - as many do - in serviced apartments? They simply cannot get water and electricity bills in their own names.

Another scenario of which I am aware, which may be rarer but still occurs, is where a householder has an extra flat in his name and permits a relative to stay there, rent free, in exchange for assistance of some kind or another. Must that contract now be changed to include the person residing there, even though he pays nothing towards the costs of his accommodation?

It all sounds to me like a bureaucratic nightmare, which could very well cause significant inconvenience for law-abiding expatriate residents in Abu Dhabi.

It is perfectly understandable why the General Directorate of Naturalisation and Foreigners' Affairs in Abu Dhabi might want to collect information about who lives where, and about how many people reside in each individual housing unit.

At a first glance, tying residency data to the renewal of visas might seem like an attractive idea. I can't help thinking, though, that the implications of the new rules haven't really been properly studied yet.

Aren't there easier ways of accomplishing the same goals? Wouldn't it be simpler to introduce a system whereby building owners would be required, annually or even quarterly, to submit a list of the people who are living in their buildings, along with their tenants' relevant identification information?

That would take account of the fact that many people move fairly frequently during the period when their residence visa is valid - in effect, this would keep more accurate track of where expatriates are living. And the data could be gathered without requiring unnecessary land lines and frequent changes in rental contracts.

In the meantime, I must remember to take a closer look at Etisalat's share price.

Peter Hellyer is a writer and consultant who specialises in Emirati culture and heritage

UPDATE: Tenancy contract not required to obtain Abu Dhabi visa, says directorate - Read article