Dubai sees start-up boom on back of residence initiatives

Dubai is expected to attract up to 250 more start-ups this year, more than over the last three years, as the Covid pandemic has seen a surge of fledgling companies setting up in the Emirate, according to Mohammed Alblooshi, sector head fintech and innovation at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

Speaking at a panel discussion, he reported that DIFC’s Innovation Hub, in particular, had posted a 29% increase in the number of registered firms over the last six months and now had more than 350 start-ups.

While the pandemic has forced many businesses to close worldwide, either temporarily or permanently, the Dubai government had been highly proactive in introducing a package of measures – making it easy to work remotely in Dubai through new visas, removing red tape and permitting 100% foreign ownership of UAE companies.

“We do still have companies coming in from abroad, but the amount that we come across from within the UAE is unparalleled,” said Alblooshi.

In 2019, the UAE government initiated long-term residence visas – Golden Visas – to allow foreign investors, entrepreneurs or individuals with outstanding talents to live, work and study in the UAE without the need of a national sponsor for up to 10 years. It also allowed them to retain 100% ownership of their business within the UAE. In 2021, the range of occupations and qualifications for the Golden Visa scheme has now been greatly expanded.

The UAE government has also announced an innovative scheme to allow workers to based themselves in one of the seven emirates but work for a company in another country. Under the new scheme, remote work visa applicants will effectively sponsor themselves, rather than being sponsored by a UAE-based business.

If successful, remote visa holders will be permitted to remain in the UAE for a period of 12 months, after which they will either need to leave or apply for another visa. Visa holders, who are required to have an income of at least USD5,000 per month, will still need to pay tax in their home country but will not need to pay tax in the UAE.

“We saw this as an opportunity. We saw people stuck in Dubai when borders closed and they couldn’t travel back,” said Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim. “Then we noticed that people began to work from here as well, enjoying the infrastructure that Dubai has. So we rolled out a programme we had been talking about for years and we have 3,000 applications that have been processed and they’re here working virtually.”

In another substantial shift in policy for 2021, the UAE government has announced that it will offer passports to select foreigners and professionals. Designed to attract talent and skills to the UAE in a way that contributes to the development and prosperity of the country, it will enable invited investors, professionals, special talents and their families to acquire Emirati nationality and passport under certain conditions.

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