Family reunification: Middle East countries' new bid new retain foreign talent

  • expat family in Dubai
Published on 2023-03-17 at 13:00 by Asaël Häzaq
The first months of the Covid pandemic raised much concern regarding global mobility. Yet, it survived and has even been reinforced. Countries affected by unparallel labor force shortages are fighting to attract foreign talent. The competition for attractiveness stretches from Japan to the UK, including Australia, Germany, Canada, and many other countries. Middle East countries are playing the family card to attract and retain foreign talent. Let's have a closer look at these measures.

Oman eases its family reunification policy

It is a win-win strategy for the Royal Oman Police (ROP). Recently, the ROP drastically reduced the basic minimum salary requirement for expats asking for a family visa. Today, foreigners applying for a family reunification visa must earn at least 390 dollars per month. This amount is half the previous wage requirement. Of course, foreign applicants (sponsors) must be able to meet their family's needs. According to the ROP, this measure aims to improve Oman's economic condition. The calculation is simple: simplifying the process for family visas will encourage more foreign talents to apply. Detangling the conditions of family reunification makes the country more attractive and more welcoming for foreign talents, including those who were not interested in settling in Oman at first.

In February 2023, the country was home to more than 4.9 million residents, of which 22% were expats. In competition with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Oman wants to reinforce its position in the Middle East and internationally. The first resolution associating minimum salary and family visa application was taken in 2011.

The country continues to smooth out its procedures, looking forward to attracting even more foreign talent and boost its economy.

Will family reunification help attract more foreign talents?

A proper job and salary are not always enough to sustainably retain foreign talents. Life is not only about work, and family occupies an important place in life projects. Thus, by facilitating family reunification, these countries raise their scores in attracting expats. Middle East countries got the tactic and are willing to welcome families of high-potential individuals.

In the United Arab Emirates, expats wishing to bring their family along must earn at least 4,000 AED, or 1,090 USD. Besides, family members must have a medical certificate proving that are “medically apt” for immigration in the United Arab Emirates. The certificate should then be approved by the Emirates' authorities.

The family visa in the Emirates costs approximately 1,300 USD. The fees are much lower in Saudi Arabia (around 2,000 Saudi riyals for a permanent family visa, which is a little more than 530 dollars). However, government employees are exempt from these fees. Expat applicants need to earn at least 3,500 Saudi riyals monthly, which is about 930 dollars. The application for a permanent visa is accessible to 200 specific professions: businesspeople, account managers, accountants, financial auditors, bank managers and administrative officers, agriculture specialists, air traffic control specialists, chemists, film and theatre directors, lawyers, and doctors, among others. 

Qatar also introduced a family residence visa, which is more expensive than in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Since February, sponsors must earn at least 15 000 Qatar riyals (around 4,100 USD) compared to 10 000 Qatar riyals previously (approximately 2,700 USD). As in Saudi Arabia, this family residence visa is available to specialized and/or skilled professionals. Drivers, delivery persons, technicians, housekeepers, and other poorly qualified professions are not eligible to apply for this visa. 

A race to attract foreign workers 

Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and even Kuwait are some of the many Middle East competing to hire foreign talents. 

Thanks to its geographic location, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the most favorable countries for foreign direct investment (FDI). The dazzling rise of Ras Al Khamai (RAK) and its economic zone, “RAKEZ”, one of the UAE's top investment zones, is the result of foreign investment. RAKEZ influences every sector, including health, transport, energy, food, automobile, etc., and attracts a large number of foreign talents. In 2021, FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) generated more than 20 billion dollars for this Emirate. 

Saudi Arabia follows suit. In 2022, public and private companies generated not less than 22 billion in foreign investments, as opposed to not more than 2 billion in 2021. Saudi Arabia is shifting its course to become a strategic investment pole, too, and to strengthen its influence. Many Middle East economies are adopting similar strategies.

But at the same time, workforce nationalization is maintained. Kuwait is a typical illustration, with the Kuwaitization drive to recruit more of its citizens. In 2020, the country announced its intention to scale down the foreign population by half. Other Middle East countries also have similar policies: Omanization, Saudization, or Qatarization.

But if Middle East's economies invest in family reunification, it is only to target qualified expats, which explains the specific salaries and/or professions' conditions. Obviously, yes to international talents and investors, among other wealthy expats.