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Explained: The UAE’s new residency laws for foreign university students

Over the last few years, the UAE has approved a number of new residency options — including a long-term Golden visa and five-year renewable retirement visa — to draw in more foreign residents to the country.

By: Explained Desk | Panaji |
January 27, 2021 1:34:05 pm
A couple looks at the skyline at sunset, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo: Kamran Jebreili, File)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has approved an amendment to its residency laws allowing foreign university students to bring their families with them to the UAE, as long as they can afford suitable accommodation and have the financial means to support them.

Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the decision earlier this week, following the UAE’s first Cabinet meeting of 2021. “The UAE has become a regional educational destination with more than 77 universities and tens of thousands of students annually,” he said.

The amendment is the latest addition to a recent spate of changes to residency laws introduced by the UAE Cabinet in a bid to attract new foreign residents, particularly to the emirate of Dubai, following the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

What is the latest amendment to the UAE’s residency laws?

Over the last few years, the UAE has approved a number of new residency options — including a long-term Golden visa and five-year renewable retirement visa — to draw in more foreign residents to the country. On Sunday, the Cabinet announced yet another visa policy amendment to boost the influx of expatriates — but this time their focus was on foreign students.

As per the recent amendment, foreign students studying at one of UAE’s many universities now have the option of bringing their families to the country to live with them. However, the students must have sufficient income to support the move and afford suitable housing.

Expatriate students over the age of 18, who are sponsored either by a parent or accredited university in the UAE, are usually granted a one-year student visa. Generally, students are required to renew their visa every one year. But on November 24, 2018, the UAE government introduced a new long-term residency scheme, also called the ‘gold’ visa, for “outstanding” students.

Students who graduate with a GPA of at least 3.75 from universities both within and outside the country are permitted to apply for the special 5-year visa. According to the UAE Government website, the visa benefits also include the families of the students.

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Why did the UAE Cabinet approve the amendment?

The latest amendment was introduced with the aim of achieving “moral stability” and supporting the country’s education sector to “reinforce its position as a leading global destination for work and study”, an official press release stated.

“We have approved some amendments to our national residence and citizenship procedures by allowing foreign students to sponsor their families, providing they can afford it,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

“We approved changes in the residency and nationality procedures in the country by enabling foreign students to bring their families whenever they have the financial means.The UAE has become a regional educational destination with more than 77 universities and tens of thousands of students annually,” he added.

Many UAE universities have said that the decision will help increase student enrolment, particularly in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Universities in the country have been conducting online classes for the last few months and are expected to resume in-person lectures only by the Spring semester in April.

What are the other programmes introduced to bring in more foreign residents?

In October, Dubai launched a unique residency programme which permitted overseas working professionals, who were working from home, to live in the UAE while continuing to serve their employers in their home country.

The scheme allows remote workers and their families to relocate to the UAE on an annual basis, as long as they have a passport with six-month calamity, health insurance with UAE coverage, proof of employment and a minimum salary of $5,000 per month.

In September, the Dubai government launched a five-year renewable Retirement Visa for foreigners aged 55 and over to live in the emirate. The programme, called Retire in Dubai, is open to all retirees as long as they earn a monthly income of at least $5,500, have savings of $275,000, or own a property in Dubai worth $550,000.

In November, Sheikh Mohammed announced that the government was expanding the categories of eligible individuals for the 10-year golden residency visa to include PhD holders, doctors, engineers in the fields of computer engineering, electronics, programming, electricity and biotechnology as well as graduates from accredited universities with a GPA of 3.8 or more.

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