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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Five-year retirement visa a salvation for those facing an uncertain future in UAE

Families from troubled regions grateful for opportunity to remain in the Emirates 

Nawal Al Ashram, a former teacher and principal, at her home in Umm Al Quwain. Satish Kumar / The National
Nawal Al Ashram, a former teacher and principal, at her home in Umm Al Quwain. Satish Kumar / The National

Non-Emirati residents in the UAE have welcomed a government initiative that allows them to stay in the country after retirement.

Before the change, retirement meant it was time to leave the UAE, which left many thinking they could not really consider the country as their home.

But the five-year retirement visa changes that, allowing thousands of residents from Palestine, Yemen, Jordan and beyond the chance to settle long-term.

“This new ruling is a salvation for people like me who believe leaving the UAE just isn’t an option because it’s home,” said Palestinian Nawal Al Ashram, 78, who has Jordanian citizenship.

“I’ve been here since I was 23 and even when I used to go back to my home country, I felt like a stranger. I’ve only ever felt that I belonged when I was back in the UAE.”

Details of the visa scheme for the retired were announced this month after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

Under the initiative, any foreign national aged 55 or over will be allowed to remain in the country if they meet prerequisites.

Nawal Al Ashram at her home in Umm Al Quwain. Satish Kumar / The National
Nawal Al Ashram at her home in Umm Al Quwain. Satish Kumar / The National

Conditions include the person owning property in the UAE worth Dh2 million, having financial savings of more than Dh1m, or proof of income of more than Dh20,000 a month. Applications will be allowed from early next year.

UAE residents have welcomed the move, saying it would help to alter the perception of the UAE being just a temporary career move rather than a country to call home.

People and families who moved here from less stable countries expressed gratitude for no longer having to consider returning to conflict zones or countries with struggling economies.

Mrs Al Ashram first worked in the country as a teacher and then as a principal. She met her late husband in Umm Al Quwain and the couple married and built a life together.

In 2000, when Mrs Al Ashram retired, she faced a predicament as to where she should move.

The Royal Family in Umm Al Quwain came to her assistance, temporarily sponsoring her for a residency visa in appreciation of her work as one of the first teachers in the country.

After her husband’s death, Mrs Al Ashram decided to apply for an investor visa as a means of remaining in the country, opening a barber shop to ensure that she qualified.

“It would have been very difficult for me to start a new life in another country,” she said, adding that she considered the government’s initiative as honouring “senior citizens and their contributions”.

For Ahmad Ibraheem, from Gaza, the five-year retirement visa has also proved a lifeline.

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Mr Ibraheem, 58, holds a Palestinian Authority Travel Document, the occupied territory’s equivalent of a passport, and was considering moving to Turkey for his retirement.

But now, because of the legislation change, he wants to remain in the UAE. The idea of returning to Gaza had not been one he welcomed.

“The visa plan came just in time to set things in place and put my mind at peace,” Mr Ibraheem said. “It lifted a great burden off my shoulders.

“In the past few years, many of my friends, mostly from Gaza, have bought homes and moved to Turkey after retirement.

“But I’m sure that had this decision been passed before they left, they wouldn’t have gone. They’d have remained here and bought homes here.”

Egyptian Khaled Mohammed, 58, has lived in the Emirates for more than 40 years. The professional photographer commended the initiative but said he still fell short of the financial criteria.

“I don’t have savings or own a property to obtain a retirement visa,” he said. “Before I got all my family here, I was sending my money to pay for their expenses back home.

“The decision is great for many but its requirements are quite hard for me to meet, especially at this stage of my life.”