In the latest example of the UAE bucking Gulf-state convention in its pragmatic quest for growth and development through dynamic policy innovation, the country’s Vice President and Prime Minister (as well as the ruler of Dubai), HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum announced yesterday that legal amendments had been passed to allow for the granting of Emirati citizenship to “investors, specialized talents, and professionals including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors, and their families.”
We adopted law amendments that allow granting the UAE citizenship to investors, specialized talents & professionals including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors and their families. The new directives aim to attract talents that contribute to our development journey.
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) January 30, 2021
Historically, countries in the region have been notoriously reluctant to allow foreigners to obtain permanent residency, to say nothing of citizenship, as well as to permit them to own companies and properties outright. Recent years have seen a flurry of changes in this respect, notably in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, the latter of which already operates a popular golden visa program and recently began permitting foreigners to wholly own companies in the country.
What’s known so far
An official statement, published in WAM, a state news agency, offered further details on the requirements for naturalization under the revised law.
- Must own a property in the UAE (minimum values not explicitly stated);
- Doctors and “specialists”:
- Must be specialized in a “unique scientific discipline or any other scientific principles that are highly required in the UAE”;
- Must have made “acknowledged scientific contributions, studies, and research of scientific value”;
- Must have practical experience of not fewer than 10 years;
- Must be a member of a reputable organization in field of specialization.
- Must be active researchers in a university or research center in the private sector;
- Must have practical experience of no fewer than 10 years;
- Must have made contributions to the scientific field “such as winning a prestigious scientific award, or securing substantial funding for their research during the past ten years”;
- Must obtain a recommendation letter from a recognized scientific institution in the UAE.
- Must obtain one or more patents that are approved by the Ministry of Economy “or any other reputable international body”;
- Must obtain a recommendation letter from the Ministry of Economy.
- “Such as intellectuals and artists, should be pioneers in the culture and art fields and winners of one or more international awards”;
- Must have a recommendation letter from “related government entities”.
The statement further specified that those naturalized would not be required to give up their original nationality, that family members of the main applicant would also be granted citizenship, that the swearing of an Oath of Allegiance would be mandatory, and that the citizenship could be rescinded should the applicant breach the conditions for its acquisition in the future.
At first glance, the new policy will not amount to a citizenship by investment program in the strict sense of the term. For that, the stipulations (at least as is so far publicly known) are not sufficiently detailed or formulaic; note that the only explicit requirement for the naturalization of investors is that they own property of an unspecified value. Inevitably, what constitutes “a unique scientific field”, an “acknowledged scientific contribution”, or “substantial funding” will have to be determined subjectively. The official statements, furthermore, make it clear that naturalization will take place on a discretionary basis:
“Acquiring the Emirati citizenship will be done through nominations from Rulers and Crown Princes Courts, Executive Councils, and the Cabinet based on federal entities nominations.”
What the UAE appears to be planning is more appropriately compared to discretionary or merit-based naturalization, a common feature of many nationality laws worldwide that reserves for the executive or legislative branches of a state the right to grant citizenship to any individual by fiat if deemed in the national interest, waiving otherwise applicable naturalization requirements. In the UAE’s case, of course, there are no conventional naturalization requirements to waive because there was no conventional path to naturalization, to begin with.
Discretionary naturalization clauses typically define very broadly what category of persons the state may naturalize by exception. Though the UAE has published cursory requirements, its policy remains far less-defined than, for example, Malta’s MEIN policy, which that country’s authorities insist on not referring to as a “program” (a stance widely considered an attempt to pre-empt the European Commission’s protestations against citizenship by investment programs).
More information on precise requirements (and amounts, in the case of investors), application procedures, and approving organs is needed not only to evaluate the viability of the UAE’s new program but also to know whether we should think of it as a program at all.
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 14 years in the United States, China, and Spain.