Shift Toward Longer Term and Permanent Residence Programs
In an effort to attract foreign investment and promote growth, Qatar and KSA have introduced permanent residency programs and the UAE has introduced the option of five-year and 10-year residence visas for select individuals. It is hoped that the option of longer-term residency visas will attract and retain highly skilled foreign nationals.
Qatar became the first GCC country to allow permanent residency when it issued Law No. 10 of 2018 regulating the issuance of Permanent Residence Permits in September 2018. Under the new program, foreign nationals with 20 years or more of continuous residence in Qatar and individuals born in Qatar with 10 years or more of continuous residence can apply for permanent residency. However, the strict eligibility criteria and the small number of residence visas available each year (100) means that the impact of the permanent residency program overall is likely to be minimal.
In May 2019, the UAE authorities announced the introduction of a “Golden Residency” or “Gold Card” for certain eligible high-net-worth individuals. There was some confusion regarding the benefits of the Gold Card, with initial reports suggesting that holders of the Gold Card would be granted permanent residency in the UAE. However, the Gold Card is not a new residency program; it is a reference to the 10-year investor visa introduced by Cabinet Decision No.56 of 2018 (Cabinet Decision) in February 2019. Pursuant to the Cabinet Decision, investors and individuals with “specialised talents and research in the fields of science and knowledge” and their dependents are eligible to apply for a 10-year residence visa and eligible entrepreneurs and their dependents and exceptional students can apply for a five-year residence visa. Prior to the Cabinet Decision, the maximum duration of a residence visa was two years onshore and three years in the free zones.
Similarly, the KSA government has introduced a premium residency card, which will allow eligible expatriates to obtain permanent residency in KSA without the need for a local sponsor. There is also the option of a one-year premium residency card, which is renewable. Holders of the premium residence card will enjoy a number of benefits, including the ability to enter and exit KSA without restriction, the ability to own property (subject to some restrictions) and the right to work in KSA or to undertake commercial activities in accordance with the KSA Foreign Investment Law. The eligibility criteria include a requirement to prove “solvency”, although it is unclear exactly what this will entail. The fees for obtaining a permanent residence visa are significant – SAR 800,000 for an unlimited duration premium residency card and SAR 100,000 for a one-year premium residence card – which means the premium residency card will not be an affordable option for many foreign nationals.
New DIFC Employment Law
On 12 June 2019, the Dubai International Financial Centre Authority (DIFCA) released the new DIFC Employment Law, DIFC Law No. 2 of 2019 (New Law), which will repeal and replace the current DIFC Employment Law, DIFC No 4. Of 2005 (Current Law).
The New Law will come into effect on 28 August 2019 and it introduces a number of significant changes, including introducing pregnancy, maternity and age as new discrimination grounds and provisions prohibiting victimisation in relation to discrimination complaints. The New Law also introduces significant remedies for discrimination and victimisation, which includes compensation of up to one year’s pay or two years’ pay in circumstances where an employer fails to comply with a recommendation of the court.
Employers in the DIFC need to take steps to review their employment contracts and policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the New Law prior to its introduction on 28 August 2019. In light of the significant remedies and vicarious liability provisions introduced for discrimination, employers should pay particular attention to any equal opportunity or discrimination policies and consider training employees on these important workplace issues.
Plan to Replace the End of Service Gratuity Payment With an Employee Workplace Savings Scheme in the DIFC