The Golden Visa initiative introduced by the United Arab Emirates government offering long-term commitments to expat investors and entrepreneurs is reassuring to the SME business community.
There is a sense of safety and security amongst this segment of the expat community in the country when it becomes clear that the government is keen to extend their welcome and secure, for a decade instead of the normal two to three year residency visa.
In any business, weighing up opportunities against risks is essential to see either an enterprise grow or collapse. One factor that is included in any business plan for an expat launching an SME in the UAE has always been the length of time one can stay in the country: can the business owner secure a Return on Investment (ROI) in a short period?
Lots of entrepreneurs are testing the water with their own ideas that they want to commercialize. Licenses selling chutneys, or manufacturing exclusive small scale sustainable fashion lines are becoming easier, and cheaper to get. From here, if the business launched attracts attention and builds traction from selling ten jars of jam to 1,000, the sky suddenly becomes the limit.
In the food and beverage retail industry in which I work startup costs for restaurants, bars and eateries vary widely, with lots of different factors at play. For a small independent restaurant setting up out with a hotel or mall in Dubai, the cost of launching will typically requires a minimum of 500 thousand dirhams.
Taking the plunge in the UAE and setting up an F&B business was a difficult call because the narrow window for success versus packing your bags and exiting the country stage left is tight.
At one point gaps in the market existed, and somewhat easy to fill. An insatiable appetite from consumers for new cuisines and concepts saw a swathe of restaurants and eateries open up over, what felt overnight. Now competition is fierce with national cuisines from across the globe catered for, while platforms, such as dark kitchens and food vans are helping feed the masses with something different.
Any business owner will tell you that they always keep an eye on spreading investments between investing in their enterprises in the UAE while looking for investment opportunities in other countries. They had no choice.
The Golden Visa lifts that pressure.
There is a freedom of knowing that there is long-term assurance on investments without having to face the worry of risks linked to financial returns. The visa also provides the flexibility to build proactive business plans.
The initiative will attract more foreign investment while stimulating the local economy. On the back of this the UAE’s competitiveness will increase, and improve the country’s position as a global hub for entrepreneurs to pursue a plethora of activities. The obvious upside is the country can attract talent from across the globe.
The Golden Visa is based on the principle of permanent residency through terms built in to an automatic renewal cycle. Any professional with entrepreneurial experience from across the globe is eligible to apply.
The single most important criterion for eligibility is that the person must have set up a business in their past, and wish to do so again in the UAE.
In a wider context, and leaving the vibrant enthused youth to one side, the initiative provides stability to older visa holders by extending permanent residency to the holder’s spouse and children too.
I’ll admit that I was surprised being awarded a Golden Visa. Over the years I haven’t been shy to voice my opinion about what I think is best for the F&B industry in the UAE. I of course have a vested interest in how the sector performs, and vocalizing my thoughts have raised eyebrows at times.
I probably jumped the gun promoting the concept of vaccine passports for entry into F&B venues in Dubai, and while it received negative feedback, other cities around the world have introduced this strategy. Time will tell how successful it becomes.
The industry has been in turmoil throughout the pandemic, but as the vaccine rollout widens by the day, there is light at the end of - what has been a very dark tunnel for many.
With the Golden Visa my business interests in the UAE have been extended, and I’m planning to live here for several years more. Given my age, in the not so distant future I’m hoping the UAE will introduce an expat retirement visa, but I’m again perhaps jumping the gun with ideas.
Naim Maadad received a Golden Visa in March 2021