Expatriates are generally not allowed to become part of the permanent population. Foreign workers are dealt with in a fair but controlled way, paid and treated well, and at the end of their time in the region, thanked and rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, the government is conscious of the need to provide decent jobs with career paths for their own young people, who are increasingly educated and aware of the attractions of the outside world – many attend universities in the USA or UK. Having made major investments in education and social welfare, they hope that eventually Dubai will become almost self-sufficient in terms of labour.
A majority of outside observers, however, believe that expatriates will have a substantial role to play for many years to come, and it seems likely that expatriates will continue to be important for the next two or three decades, although there will undoubtedly be changes in the number of people employed and the type of skills required. For example, the vast construction projects currently found throughout the region (e.g. road systems, airports, ports and trading zones) will become less numerous, with a resulting decline in the number of manual workers required. Commercial development, however, will lead to further building programmes as Dubai’s economy continues to grow. Managerial, professional and particularly technological experience will still be in strong demand for many years to come. But there will be none of the mass immigration and resulting demands for citizenship that have been experienced in western societies, or the current trend of economic refugees looking for a better way of life. Dubai will simply not allow it. Foreigners cannot become citizens although there does appear to be some lessening of the restrictions regarding owning one’s own business.
There are other general issues to consider: you’re contemplating a move to a culture that’s almost certainly different to your own; will the way of life, and particularly the restrictions imposed on you, suit you? Will the relocation benefit your long-term career prospects? Will your family (especially any children) cope with and benefit from the move? What impact will it have on their education and employment prospects? If you aspire to be your own boss, as many people do, be aware that starting a business in the region can prove difficult and that you will almost always be required to have a local partner who has a majority holding. Is that acceptable to you?
The Middle East has been the scene of considerable conflict and unrest in recent decades, although the Gulf states are generally safe places to live and work. However, before travelling anywhere in the Middle East, it’s wise to obtain advice from your country’s foreign office. Note also that homosexuality is regarded as a criminal offence throughout the region.
You should ideally have a firm offer of employment before travelling to Dubai. Speculative visits are occasionally successful, but you need to be notably lucky and have high-grade qualifications and experience to stand any chance. In addition, you will almost certainly need knowledgeable local contacts and have done some research into the types of company which would most value your experience.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Dubai is part of the UAE, which is a confederation of Emirates also comprising of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al-Quwain. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the two main partners and subsidise the other Emirates. As with the other Gulf states, oil and gas underpin the Emirates’ economy. The Emirates, as the confederation is usually called, is the third-largest oil producer in the Middle East, with a reported daily output of around 2.5 million barrels, and it claims to have the world’s third-largest known reserves of oil. (Oil reserve projections estimate that Abu Dhabi has enough oil in the ground to last 100 years or more at the current rate of extraction.) The UAE’s natural gas resources are also abundant, and shrewd overseas investments by the International Petroleum Company (IPIC), particularly in the area of oil refining and petrochemicals, have added value to the energy resources of the UAE.
As elsewhere in the Gulf, economic diversification has been encouraged, to the extent that non-oil business now accounts for over half of gross domestic product. Major projects include petrochemicals, downstream oil refining, telecommunications, aviation and tourism. The UAE has the highest per capita income in the Arab world.
Dubai has had a more urgent need to diversify than the other Emirates and it has responded by developing a wide portfolio of industrial, manufacturing, construction and service interests. DUBAL is a major aluminium smelting operation, with increasing capacity and a progressive export programme to the countries of the European Union and others. The Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) port has contributed greatly to the economy, highly preferential trading conditions attracting many international manufacturing and distribution companies, who are allowed 100 per cent ownership. A second free zone, Um Al-Qain, is situated around 50km (30mi) north of Dubai within the Ahmed Bin Rashid port, where Dubai Drydocks is one of the world’s largest ship repair yards and competes with Bahrain’s ASRY yard.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now.