UAE amends laws to allow foreigners, including Nigerian property owners, to become citizens
Nigerian politically exposed persons linked to 800 choice property in Dubai could receive UAE citizenship under new laws
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THE United Arab Emirates has adopted laws that will grant citizenship to a select group of foreigners, including investors and property owners.
A category of foreigners that could be granted citizenship, as announced by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, in a tweet on January 30, 2021, are professionals such as doctors, scientists, engineers, artists, authors and their families.
The development followed the amendment of the executive regulation of the federal law concerning nationality and passports.
To secure the citizenship, investors must own a property in the UAE, according to a statement on UAE state news agency, WAM.
Scientists eligible for citizenship must obtain one or more patents that are approved by the UAE Ministry of Economy or any other reputable international body, in addition to a recommendation letter from the ministry.
Also, to obtain UAE citizenship, doctors and specialists must be specialised in a unique scientific discipline or any other scientific principles that are highly required in the Gulf state.
Eligible scientists are required to be active researchers in universities or research centres or in the private sector, with practical experience of not less than 10 years in the same field.
In the same vein, individuals with creative talents, such as intellectuals and artists, should be pioneers in the culture and art fields, and winners of one or more international awards. A recommendation from related government agencies is also mandatory for the citizenship offer.
The UAE cabinet, local courts and executive councils will nominate the foreigners eligible for the citizenship under criteria set for each category.
However, the amended laws will allow foreigners who received the UAE passport to keep their existing citizenship, meaning that Nigerians and citizens of other countries who become citizens of the UAE under the arrangement will now have dual citizenship.
The citizenship can be withdrawn upon breach of certain conditions, according to the statement.
While it is not immediately clear whether the foreigners who will be bestowed citizenship would have the full rights and benefits of the Emirati, as natives of the UAE are known, Bloomberg, in an analysis, noted that the amendment, which it described as a ‘major policy shift,’ was aimed at attracting talents in a way that will boost economic growth in the UAE, home to the Middle East’s finance and travel hubs – Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Although foreign residents make up more than 80 percent of the population of the UAE’s seven sheikhdoms and have been the mainstay of the UAE economy for decades, they have lacked a clear path to citizenship, even for those born and raised in the country.
Hitherto citizenship was reserved for foreigners only in special cases, particularly for service to the UAE.
Bloomberg further observed that governments of the Gulf states, including the UAE, have long resisted offering permanent residency to their millions of foreign workers in a bid to protect generous privileges enjoyed by their citizens. However, the 2014 oil-price slump is forcing them to prepare their economies for a post-fossil fuel world and they are now seeking to entice wealthy people to stay.
According to Bloomberg, the UAE in 2020 abolished companies having Emirati shareholders in a major shake-up of foreign ownership laws aimed at attracting investment into the economy, which has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and decline in oil prices.
Before coming up with the amended laws that allow granting citizenship to select foreigners, the UAE had announced a plan to grant visas of five to 10 years to wealthy property investors and entrepreneurs, as well specialised researchers.
* Not fewer than 800 Dubai choice property worth over $146 billion linked to Nigerian politically exposed persons (PEPs)
Checks by The ICIR show that several wealthy Nigerian politicians could qualify for UAE citizenship, under the amended laws, by virtue of their ownership of choice, luxurious property in Dubai, the financial and travel centre of the UAE.
A report titled ‘Dubai Property: An Oasis for Nigeria’s Corrupt Political Elites,’ authored by Mathew T. Page and published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on March 19, 2020, noted that no fewer than 800 Dubai property were linked to Nigerian politicians.
According to the report, information on property owned by Nigerian politicians in Dubai came to light after the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (now known as C4ADS), in 2016, acquired the data of a private database of Dubai real estate information (dubbed the ‘Sandcastles’ data).
“At least 800 properties were found to have links to Nigerian politically exposed persons or their family members, associates, and suspected proxies,” the report said.
Politically exposed persons are individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public functions. The report observed that for those of them with ill-gotten wealth, Dubai is an alluring destination for investing their gains.
“Although certainly not the only place to stash money, Dubai – dubbed the commercial capital of the Middle East – exercises minimal oversight and has few legal or logistical obstacles to transferring large amounts of cash or purchasing property.”
Highlighting the scale and significance of Nigerian PEPs Dubai property holdings, the report stated, “The 800 Dubai properties linked to Nigerian PEPs are estimated to be worth well over 146 billion naira (N) ($400 million). This equals roughly two-thirds of the Nigerian Army’s annual budget and over three times the annual budget of the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission.”
It added that Dubai property ownership is an indicator – not definitive proof – that a particular politically exposed Nigerian possesses unexplained wealth.
“Although many PEPs’ property purchases exceed what their official salaries should permit, some politically exposed Nigerians have complicated personal financial portfolios combining marital and family assets, business holdings, charitable foundations, and other offshore wealth,” the report noted, adding that “Nigerian elites face few obstacles transferring large quantities of cash to Dubai as banks or other money transfer agents in both Nigeria and the UAE do not appear to be reporting large or otherwise suspicious transactions by PEPs to national authorities.”
Going by the Sandcastles data, politically exposed Nigerians that were linked to Dubai property include state governors; state governors’ allies; heads of federal government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs); individuals already investigated or convicted by anti-corruption agencies; petroleum sector officials; security sector figures; legislators; and suspected proxies. A judge and a handful of traditional leaders were also linked to Dubai property in Sandcastles data.
Dubai is a very attractive destination for Nigerians due to its accessibility as a major transportation hub and the home of Emirates Airlines, and the fact that it is easier for a Nigerian to get a UAE visa than it is for them to get a visa for the United States or United Kingdom.
The number of Nigerians traveling to Dubai has continued to rise. According to the report, the number of Nigerians arriving in Dubai increased by 28 percent in the first half of 2019 (compared to the same period in 2018).
As a result, according to the report, Nigeria has become one of the top 20 countries from where visitors arrive in Dubai.