Life of UAE Expatriate Workers: A Ship Sinking Too Soon

UAE’s dynamic job market and its promised tax-free income is the driving force for millions of expatriates who leave their home country in hope of a better life. However, most UAE expatriate workers neglect a range of expenses related to property, education and other costs of living that challenge survival in the rich country.

A deeper look into the improving statistics of UAE expatriate workers’ market explains that the country’s launch of various schemes to lure people have proved effective over the years. In 1968, about 62 percent of workforce comprised of UAE nationals. In 2000, this number fell significantly to 7.5%. Straight to 2018, expat population is almost 90 percent of the total residents. The rising expat number has led residents to fear that the country is losing out on its Arab character.

Despite comprising majority population, UAE expatriate workers are not able to avail various statutory benefits being claimed by the government. Exploitation by employers, rising unemployment, language barriers are a few reasons why poor expats remain unprotected sufferers.

In September 2020, the UAE announced retirement visas to serve expats and lure foreigners above 55 years of age. For availing this, the employee must own a real estate in Dubai with a value of at least AED 2 million. With their meagre salaries and everyday expenses, UAE expatriate workers are not able to save enough for their retirement. Consequently, the retirement visa plans aren’t accessible.

With the onset of Covid-19, various expats were subject to pay cuts, furloughs and had to bear additional medical expenses of family members in home countries. Some even faced unemployment and were not able to head homewards due to travel bans. As per a survey by global consulting firm Mercer, nearly 50 percent of UAE expatriate workers don’t have a retirement plan to assure a healthy standard of living late in life. Most people do not have adequate knowledge about UAE’s gratuity plans. Consequently, quality of life after retirement degrades drastically.

According to Stuart Shilcock, the head of sales, Middle East at Friends Provident International, “all employees in the UAE are woefully unprepared to survive financially if they can’t work. More than two-thirds of expat workers stated that they won’t be able to survive post three months in case of unemployment or extended sickness.

Even the launch of ‘Golden Visa’ raised questions about its relevance because it offered economic citizenship to elite immigrants, who often have wealth-based privileges. It is termed elitist in nature as it doesn’t cater to those who have stayed in the UAE for generations.

Considering the financial risks of UAE expatriate workers, the government’s claims of offering protection to them seem to be laden with benefits that are difficult to avail for a poor expat. One must consider if the country’s tax-free income makes it a worthy destination for foreign workers!

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