The United Arab Emirates has undergone a massive makeover in the last few decades with greater emphasis on technology, global trade and tourism.
The country is looking to solidify its place as a global economic power and become a home base for wealthy investors from around the world with its newly launched permanent residency scheme, also known as the Golden Card programme.
The programme, which was unveiled by UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum in May this year, is open to investors and "exceptional talents" such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists and awards them 10-year visas.
The aim of this programme is clear - attract wealthy investors to the country, thereby giving a fillip to the local economy, promoting economic diversification, sustainable development and increasing the UAE’s economic competitiveness.
In fact, the first batch of 6800 recipients, which includes expats from over 70 countries, have made total investments of over Dh 100 billion.
The Gold Card visa will have to however be renewed every 10 years.
"The Gold Card (permanent visa) is renewable after 10 years because there are medical insurance and other procedures that have to be done," said Major General Mohammad Al Marri, director-general of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) at a press conference recently.
"If the business falters in the future, the Gold Card visa will be reviewed on a case-to-case basis," added Al Marri.
Gold Card visa holders can freely enter and leave the country and are also exempted from the rule of not being out of the country for a period of six consecutive months.
Aside from the gold visa, the UAE also offers other categories of visas with a lesser validity period for small investors and businessmen.
Many countries offer forms of permanent residency.
The US has the Green Card system that are issued to priority workers, relatives of residents and USD 1 million-plus investors, while Portugal's Golden Visa is given to those investing in property, setting up a business or creating jobs.
Singapore also has a permanent residency or PR program that has successfully attracted a wide variety of immigrants from around the world who have made the city-state their home.
UAE has now joined their ranks and its Golden Card move is likely to work its charm on wealthy Indian businessmen and professionals who are already doing business in the Gulf nation but now could look at it as a home base.
The Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE, constituting roughly about 30 percent of the country's estimated nine million population.
Three Indians have already received their permanent residency under the scheme: Yusuff Ali, chairman and managing director of Lulu Group, Firoz Merchant, self-made millionaire and founder of jewellery business Pure Gold, and Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of VPS Healthcare.
The Golden Card programme is also expected to give a massive boost to the real estate sector in the UAE. Prior to this, short-term visas linked to employment prevented expatriates from investing and owning real estate in the UAE, with most preferring to remit their savings back home.
The Golden Card scheme hopes to encourage these expats to make long-term investments in the country which includes property ownership, once they start viewing Dubai as home rather than just a temporary place of employment.
The fact that the scheme is also applicable to the spouse and children of the recipient serves to make it even more attractive. Investors can also employ three workers and obtain residency for a senior employee, advisor or manager.
The move is unlikely to prompt immigrants holding a green card of another country to give that up and go for a gold card in the UAE.
The prospect of having residency rights, read lesser visa applications, will have a very positive effect on the mindset towards the UAE.
It will also encourage Non-Resident Indians working in the UAE to be less insecure about their immigration status and look at establishing themselves through property and other long-term investments, which can only be good culturally and economically for the country.
Note: The story has been updated to include clarifications regarding the Gold Card Scheme by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA), UAE, issued at a press conference held on June 25.