Policy wonk digest – Dubai and the United Arab Emirates

  • Dubai Emiratis receive extraordinary financial support from the hereditary monarchy that governs them including free land when they marry and cash bonuses when they produce children. Citizens of other emirates get some support too, but generally not as much. This is an important example of the United Arab Emirates functioning more like seven fiefdoms than one united country.
  • Only children with at least one Emirati present (until recently an Emirati father) can get citizenship in the UAE. As a result many South Asian families have been in the country for generations but have no official residence status.
  • Alcohol is illegal in some Emirates, always illegal for Emiratis, and also illegal for foreigners without a license, or outside the confines of hotels. It is also illegal for unmarried couples to live together (regardless of nationality) and public displays of affection are banned. I have some sympathy for this last law. In practice laws like these are rarely enforced against foreigners.
  • Outside of designated ‘free zones’ businesses must be majority Emirati owned. In practice this means paying an Emirati sponsor not to interfere in the day to day operations of your business.
  • There is no income tax.
  • Immigration is relatively free, supporting the import of many foreign workers. But the ability to bring your family (first a wife and then children) is means tested.
  • Low cost foreign workers from the Philippines and sub-continent have relatively few rights. The receive pay that is high compared to their home country but low compared to others in the Emirates. Their employers often confiscate their passports, limiting their ability to flee.
  • The Emirati Dirham is tied to the US dollar.
  • Emirates airline employees around 13,000 Dubai based flight crew. Interestingly, of its own accord it offers to adjust 50% of employee salaries to reflect fluctuations of currencies in their home countries. This is in recognition that most of its employees send much of their salary home.

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