Thursday, 3 September 2015

Diary of an Economic Migrant: A Middle Eastern Perspective on Immigration

In a summer when debates about immigration have never been far from the headlines, it is at least topical that it is this year that we should choose to leave Britain to head out to work in the Middle East. The lure of excellent jobs and new challenges, combined with the promise of a better standard of living in tax-free sunshine eventually became irresistible. After interviews in London and Dubai, I accepted the post of Director of Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) and my wife, Samantha, was appointed Principal of Ranches Primary School (only a mile from JESS!) in May.
There is no getting around it, we are economic migrants - we are moving abroad in hope of a better life and we are willing to work hard to achieve it. However, the stand out thing for me in this whole process is the difference between the way in which the UK and the UAE approach the thorny issue of immigration and economic migration. 
The UAE welcomes migrants - indeed 93% of Dubai's population are from overseas. It has had a lot of practice at immigration and it has got the whole process taped. The UAE's approach is based on a simple principle that so long as you are economically viable you are most welcome. We (or rather our employers) are responsible for providing Health Insurance, and all schools here are fee-paying.
UAE do not offer Citizenship, but they they do allow foreign nationals to apply for Residency. This blogpost outlines the UAE immigration process and you can form your own opinion on whether or not there are lessons here from which the UK can learn.

Friday 14th. August Arrived Dubai International Airport (DXB) and, before passing through immigration, collected my work visa, which has been sponsored by my employer. My passport and work visa are stamped on entry. I'm now in a limbo: I'm neither a tourist nor a UAE resident. UAE law only allows those who have Residency to take out a rental lease on a property or a car; indeed, without Residency, you can't get a driving licence or open a bank account. My transitional status means that my employer has rented an apartment and a hire car for 30 days on my behalf - it has made life possible.

Sunday 16th August
I begin the process of applying for Residency by presenting myself at Al Safa Community Health Centre for two medical checks:
  1. A blood test to ensure that I don't have AIDS
  2. A chest X-ray to ensure that I don't have TB.
Assuming all is in order, I will be granted Residency for two years in the first instance, after which I will need to reapply (which I understand is a formality and doesn't entail the medical checks).

I then applied for my UAE ID Card, which I shall be required to carry at all times.  This entailed paying a fee (270 AED = £46) and reporting to the Emirates Identity Authority to have my biometric data collected:
  • Finger prints
  • Headshot photograph
  • Signature
Monday 17th August 
I am now officially a UAE Resident with a Residency Visa in my passport. I am now able to apply for a driving licence, to open a bank account and to rent a property.

Thursday 20th August
Reported to the Optician's to have formal eye test so that I can apply for my driving licence.
Thursday 3rd September
My Emirates ID has arrived. I now am able to apply for a Driving Licence, register to be able to have an account for Water and Electricity, and to arrange for a TV/Telephone for my house.

There is a lot of paperwork to be done on arrival in the UAE, but one of the great things about Dubai is that the Dubai Municipality building has customer service centres for a whole range of organisations: the RTA (Transport), Ejari, (Property Registration), DEWA (Water and Electricity), Immigration and so on. The end result is that you can go to one building and deal with a whole range of issues at one hit. Inside there people providing typing and photocopying services, so, if you happen to forget to photocopy a key document, it can be done in a minute.
I applied for my Driving Licence - the Municipality were unbelievably efficient and I receive my new driving licence over the counter 10 minutes after walking into the building - the DVLA has much to learn.

Monday 7th September
I am now registered with DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) - the bills are now on my tab, but I now can register the Tenancy for the villa in my name.

All of this would not have been possible to achieve so smoothly without the expertise of Azeez, the JESS Administration Assistant and School Driver.

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