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The UAE opens the door to obtaining Emirati citizenship for the first time in its history


The United Arab Emirates decided to distribute full citizenship and passports to investors, doctors and other foreigners with the required skills, in a major departure from the previous policy. This step is considered pioneering and unprecedented in the Arab world, and in the Gulf in particular, in granting the UAE nationality to foreigners.

The goal, according to Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is to attract talent and investments to the country, as the economy these days suffers from declining oil revenues and the impact of the Coronavirus crisis. Rating agency Standard & Poor’s believes that the UAE’s economy will not recover to pre-epidemic levels until 2023.

The government said that those who could qualify for the UAE citizenship application were investors, doctors, inventors, scientists, thinkers and artists. Their spouses and children will also benefit, and everyone will be allowed to keep their current nationalities.

However, it is unclear how many people will be able to claim citizenship, but there are a number of obstacles that candidates will have to overcome.

Conditions for obtaining the United Arab Emirates citizenship

Candidates to apply for citizenship in the United Arab Emirates will need to fulfill certain conditions, each according to their field of specialization:

  • Investors will need to own a property in the UAE or a project based in the country.
  • Doctors and other medical professionals, their scientific specialty must be required in the United Arab Emirates. Included in this framework are surgeons, dentists, and others.
  • Scientists are required to actively participate in scientific research and have at least 10 years of experience.
  • Inventors who obtained one or more patents for their innovations and contributions.
  • Artists must be "pioneers in the fields of culture and art" and have won international awards to prove this.

Outstanding questions about the UAE nationality

Individuals simply cannot apply though. Nominations can only be made through the Rulers' Courts or the Crown Prince of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, as well as through the Emirates Executive Boards or the Federal Cabinet. It is not yet clear how the process will work in practice.

Until now, Emirati citizenship was generally only available to the wives and children of Emirati men. Children of female citizens who married non-citizens do not have an automatic right to citizenship and may take years to acquire.

These strict rules are common across the Arab Gulf region, and there have been protests when some governments relaxed these rules. In Bahrain, the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 included protests against the fast-tracked citizenship acquisition of Sunnis from Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, and other countries - a policy that Bahrain's Shiite majority interpreted as an attempt to weaken their position and change the fabric of society.

In its statement announcing its new policy, the UAE government indicated that “Emirati citizenship offers a wide range of benefits, including the right to establish or own commercial entities and properties, in addition to any other benefits granted by the federal authorities.” However, he did not say whether this includes access to the generous public welfare system that provides free education, healthcare, housing loans and more.