New UAE Citizenship Program: A Privilege Accorded to Few

Over the past few years, the Gulf states’ economies have been thriving due to hard labour of foreign workers who travel from across the globe to earn their bread in the Arab nations. Since they are major contributors to economic well-being of a nation, each country tries to offer them privileges. Likewise, the new UAE citizenship program is aimed at reducing the speed of expat exodus that has gained momentum amidst Covid-19.

The new UAE citizenship program claims to protect the interests of foreigners by offering them citizenship rights based on various parameters. Yet, there remain a range of loopholes that make the new laws redundant for a select few. As stated by the CEO of a London-based government advisory CS Global Partners — Micha Emmett, “The pathway to citizenship for expatriates is limited in scope as they have no agency to apply for citizenship in the UAE. It is more of a feel-good story than a driver of economic returns or one that presents security to the UAE’s foreign workforce”.

The non-inclusion of stateless people and children born to Emirati women and foreign fathers in the new UAE citizenship program came across as a huge disappointment to a major chunk of the population in January 2021. As per the new rules, children born to an Emirati father and a foreign mother are entitled to citizenship, but those born to Emirati mothers and foreign fathers can apply for citizenship only after the child is six years old.

Even then, several mothers complained of cumbersome application processes that go unnoticed for years. Many children above 18 years of age, who can legally apply for citizenship have complained of receiving no response despite years of waiting.

People expressed their dejection with the new UAE citizenship program on social media platforms like the one stated below:

The country’s bidun or stateless population are the worst sufferers of the new UAE citizenship laws. Most of these stateless people descend from the nomadic communities or immigrants who lived in the country before 1971, but couldn’t register themselves legally. Due to lack of documentation, these people face many challenges in getting access to mundane things like healthcare and educational facilities. Increased competition from the UAE citizens and foreign professionals further jeopardise their employment opportunities. Regardless of the duration they have lived in the UAE, these people aren’t taken into consideration by the UAE government.

Experts also blame the new UAE citizenship laws for laying special emphasis on the elite foreign professionals and ignoring those who have stayed within the country for generations. Clearly, economic citizenship is a priority. By advancing citizenship rights to the wealthy few, the country is significantly widening the gap between the rich and poor.

Under its claims of offering citizenship to all foreign professionals, the UAE is hiding the fact that no lawyers can help individuals to undergo the citizenship process. Since the final word remains in the hands of the central government, one can’t just apply and get citizenship!

The amendments in citizenship laws in practise work quite similar to the ‘Golden Visa program’ that the Arab nation launched to lure investors, entrepreneurs and other skilled people. Although successful in its initial phases, the 10-year residency program introduced major challenges when the country’s economic situation was hit. Covid-19 travel bans encouraged many expats to escape the UAE despite these protective programs.

Increasing privatisation to boost economic diversification, the Golden Visa plan and the new UAE citizenship program seem to be UAE’s strategic moves to create a pool of rich elites. A sophisticated crowd would then lure more tourists, thereby pushing the country’s economy to great heights. Nevertheless, these sly moves ignore the plight of thousands of innocents whose cries remain unheard!!

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