Of the 59 million people living in the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar), half are foreigners. Some of these expatriates stay for only a few years, while others make careers in the Gulf, but few have ever considered living there, he explains The economist :
Gulf countries have long rejected the idea of offering citizenship to expats. Locals fear it will undermine national identity, and governments are unwilling to extend to foreigners the costly benefits they offer their citizens. For most foreigners, living in the Gulf region means adding short-term work visas : When you stop being productive, you stop being resident.”
A series of spectacular reforms in the Emirates
But things are gradually changing, notes the business magazine. Last January, the United Arab Emirates decided to allow certain foreign professionals – doctors, entrepreneurs or scientists – to acquire citizenship. For its part, Saudi Arabia announced in November that it had naturalized an unspecified number of expatriates. Most Gulf States now offer long-term resident status that is decoupled from employment contracts. Finally, in the United Arab Emirates, expatriates can now retire locally instead of returning home.
Developments that are part of a series of spectacular reforms aimed at making life easier for foreigners, notes The economist. “Unmarried couples can now legally live together in the Emirates. Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol. In November, the capital city of Abu Dhabi decided to allow civil marriages for non-Muslims. Finally, on December 7, the United Arab Emirates announced that Saturday and Sunday would now be the weekly rest days for the entire public sector, putting the country on par with most countries in the world but creating a gap with many Arab countries.” where the weekend lasts from Friday to Saturday.
The gray areas of citizenship law
The fact remains that the Emirates only want to naturalize a thousand people each year – that’s 0.01% of their population! Citizenship law is indeed ultra-elitist:
A respected scientist can become an Emirati citizen, but not the janitor who cleans his lab. Despite breaking a taboo, the Gulf rulers have not changed a social pact that makes citizenship a gift bestowed on those deemed worthy. They’ve just expanded the pool to attract and retain talented foreigners as part of a contest to diversify oil economies, but the path to citizenship will remain closed to most foreigners living in the Gulf.
In addition, there are certain gray areas in this new law, he points out tea Economist. It is not specified whether naturalized foreigners benefit from the same privileges as native Emiratis – for example cheap mobile phone tariffs, interest-free housing loans and various subsidies. It also doesn’t say anything about specific duties that locals are subject to – particularly conscription, which has been mandatory since 2014.