UAE’s Gold Card, Saudi Arabia’s Privileged Iqama to draw top talent

Recent residency visa updates from both the UAE and Saudi Arabia prove that the GCC is welcoming engineering excellence

Jack Ball is senior reporter at Construction Week.
© ITP Media Group / Efraim Evidor
Jack Ball is senior reporter at Construction Week.

The GCC is a hotbed for recruitment, with talented individuals from around the world descending on the region to capitalise on its array of job opportunities. Indeed, competition to source and retain top-tier talent across various sectors appears to be ramping up against a backdrop of economic diversification and visa system expansion schemes from major regional players such as Saudi Arabia.

On 21 May, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the Gold Card permanent residency scheme for certain investors, and others with “exceptional competencies” in the fields of medicine, engineering, science, and the arts.

While the first batch of recipients of the UAE's Gold Card will be 6,800 investors with a total investment of $27.2bn (AED100bn), the scheme is also available to others that contribute “to the positive success story of the UAE”.

This is the latest in a number of steps being taken by the country’s leadership to attract international investors and skilled workers.

With the UAE and Saudi Arabia making it easier for talented foreign nationals to make a permanent home in the GCC, the regional construction industry’s future looks bright.

In May 2018, the UAE Cabinet, chaired by the Dubai Ruler, announced several measures to boost the UAE’s economy. Initiatives included a decision to allow 100% foreign ownership of UAE-based companies by international investors; and the offer of residency visas valid for up to 10 years for investors, doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and other highly specialised professionals.

The construction market was quick to praise the move, with firms including Azizi Developments, Danube Properties, Samana Developers, and Gemini Property Developers confirming that they expected the long-term visa scheme to attract real estate investment.

“The UAE is already a magnet for international investors, and the new law will further boost investor confidence, especially in the real estate and construction sectors,” said group chief executive officer of Samana Developers, Imran Farooq, speaking at the time.

A year on, and Saudi Arabia is now making similar moves as it too looks to attract talent and inward investment. The kingdom’s cabinet – chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – approved the Privileged Iqama special residency system in mid-May.

Touted as the kingdom’s version of the Green Card, which permits foreign nationals to live and work in the US, the new scheme will allow highly skilled expats and owners of capital funds to live and work in Saudi Arabia without the need for a local sponsor.

These visa system updates are a reminder that competition to attract top talent to the GCC remains fierce. With the UAE planning projects for Expo 2020 Dubai and beyond, and Saudi Arabia’s project pipeline valued by intelligence platform ProTenders in the trillions of dollars, the need for skilled workers in both countries’ construction markets will only increase going forward.

With the UAE and Saudi Arabia making it easier for talented foreign nationals to make a permanent home in the GCC, the regional construction industry’s future looks bright.

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