A general view of Dubai from Burj Al khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Picture: REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed
A general view of Dubai from Burj Al khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Picture: REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed

Dubai — Dubai is looking to attract retirees by gearing up a programme first started two years ago that has taken on greater urgency as the Middle East business hub contends with the flight of expatriates amid an economic downturn.

Foreigners over the age of 55 will be eligible for a five-year renewable visa if they meet certain criteria, according to the Dubai Media Office. In its initial phase, the programme will focus on residents working in the second-biggest sheikhdom in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Built on trade and tourism in a region reliant on oil, Dubai saw its population growth slow for three straight years even before the global pandemic shook up its economy. With job losses in the UAE accelerating to the fastest on record, the emirate runs the risk of seeing more expatriates choosing to decamp to other countries or return home.

Foreigners account for about 90% of Dubai’s population, but their residency is tied to employment, discouraging many from putting down roots, and in turn investments, in the city.

The attempt to woo an older demographic marks the start of implementing a plan approved by the UAE cabinet in September 2018. Back then few details were divulged over how the programme would be implemented.

Dubai could be a pricey destination for pensioners and is likely to face stiff competition from countries such as Spain, Costa Rica and Malaysia, which tend to have a lower cost of living and cheaper medical expenses.

According to the announcement on Wednesday, eligible candidates should meet one of the following requirements:

  • Monthly income of 20,000 dirhams ($5,445)
  • Savings of 1-million dirhams
  • Own property in Dubai worth 2-million dirhams 

The UAE is among Gulf economies most reliant on the employment of expatriates. It has succeeded in leveraging its oil wealth to attract millions of foreigners over recent years.

With a local population of about 1-million, the UAE in 2019 hosted more migrants than France or Canada, according to UN estimates.

The UN projects the country’s combined population will grow slightly over the coming decades, reaching 10.4-million by 2050 from just under 10-million this year. In 1950, the UAE had a total of 70,000 inhabitants.

Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, director-general of the general directorate of residency and foreigners affairs in Dubai, said authorities believe appealing to pensioners is a way “to enhance the emirate’s position as a prominent destination on the global investment map”.

The programme “will contribute towards our tourism economy by facilitating frequent visits from families and friends of the retirees and increasing visitation from markets with a high retiree population,” he was cited as saying by the Dubai Media Office.

Bloomberg

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