In 2021, I was one of the first few Pakistanis to be granted the coveted golden visa by the UAE government. Last month, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in the UAE revealed that 151,600 of these visas were issued between 2019-2022. Given that interest in them continues to rise, I thought I would share my experience, even though the criteria for this permit varies on the category under which one applies, and the rules have changed since I received mine.
I moved from Pakistan to the UAE in 2016 and started working for PepsiCo MENA as an internal corporate communications specialist/videographer. A year later, I joined Gulf News as a senior visual journalist and I have been working there since then – suffice to say I had a fair bit of media experience under my belt.
Also read: New UAE visa rules to come into effect today
I have had multiple UAE residency visas pasted on my passport - those living in the country will know that every two years we have to renew our visas. From getting the medical fitness test to multiple visits to the GDRFA or Amer centers (a one-stop shop that allows residents and citizens to complete all visa and residency transactions under a single roof), to submitting fingerprints for Emirates ID and collecting the ID from Emirates Post, undeniably it’s tiring.
So, when one fine evening, I received an email from my editor in chief at Gulf News that I was selected to be granted the 10-years Golden Visa endorsed by Dubai Media Office under the category of ‘Creative people in the field of Culture and Art’, I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t even know that the company had nominated my name for this scheme.
According to the UAE government website, the only criteria for this particular category is an approval letter from one of the emirates’ departments of culture and arts. For other categories, there may be a longer list of requirements.
The next step was to get the visa pasted on my passport. I was asked by my company to get my medical fitness test done. Since my application was already approved by the concerned immigration authority, I walked into the Al Qouz Mall medical center and got my test done.
This usually includes X-Rays and blood tests to check for AIDS, pulmonary tuberculosis, leprosy as well as Hepatitis B and C. A medical fitness test will cost AED250 and can be done from the nearest government authorised medical center.
The centre told me the results will be delivered within 48 hours or earlier. I got the results in 24 hours. The next step was to meet a GDRFA representative who was very helpful, answered my queries and told me next steps.
I had to submit my new visa application at Amer Centre and get my company-sponsored visa cancelled in order to get the new golden visa.
Within a week’s time, I got the new visa pasted on my passport. I submitted a request for a new Emirates ID card, which I got within a month.
I now had a 10-year UAE Golden visa with self-sponsorship and no need for visa renewals until 2031.
I want to mention that back in 2021 the process of getting a golden visa was different from what we have today. The UAE announced an update to the country’s visa system, and the changes came into effect on October 3, 2022.
What are the benefits of a golden visa?
There are multiple benefits of having a golden visa but the one that stands out for me is that I am no longer on a company-sponsored visa. I am self-sponsored, which means I can switch jobs hassle-free or even start my own venture by simply registering my business, without any sponsor required.
Other perks include the ability to stay outside the UAE for more than the usual period of six months in order to keep the visa valid.
People who cancel their residency visas will have a six-month grace period to stay in the country. Previously, people were allowed only one month.
The visa changes represent one of the biggest shake-ups of the country’s immigration policy in years. And once you have this visa, you can sponsor family members, including spouses and children regardless of their ages.
Are you eligible for a golden visa?
The first thing you need is to find out which category you can apply under. Abu Dhabi Residents Office (ADRO), which is a department dedicated to helping new residents settle into Abu Dhabi, has created an online tool that could be of help.
Even if you are applying for a visa from another emirate, this tool is a good starting point. In the updated Golden Visa scheme, the eligible categories include but are not limited to the following: scientists, investors and entrepreneurs - including owners of registered successful start-ups, those who have an approved idea for a start-up and previous founders of a successful start-up that was sold inside or outside the UAE.
You could also apply if you can show you have exceptional talents in fields like culture, art, sports and digital technology, or are an engineering/health/education professional. If you are a top-performing student, can prove you have done exceptional humanitarian work or are considered a frontline hero due to your efforts made during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could also be considered for a golden visa.
What documents do you need?
Certain categories may require you to get a recommendation from the relevant government department. For example, athletes need a recommendation letter from the General Sports Authority or one of the sports councils while specialists in engineering and science will need a copy of a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree certified by the Ministry of Education as well as a work contract.
If you want to get a list of all the documents you may need for your category, you can contact the Amer service in Dubai.
If you are applying for the Golden Visa in Abu Dhabi, you can reach out to ADRO. For all other Emirates, you can contact the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Port Security (ICP).
The application process You can apply online, visit an Amer centre or an ICP customer happiness centre. If you are applying for the visa in Dubai, GDRFA allows applicants to use their online service.
You will need to provide details of your current residency, like your residence visa number, UID number, tenancy contract and International Bank Account number. You will then be asked to attach all required documents, including your passport copy, Emirates ID copy and documents supporting your eligibility for the category of Golden Visa. After that you will be asked to pay the required fees. The fees for a 10-year golden visa is AED2,790 residency fees plus AED 1,070 for the Emirates ID. For a 5 year golden visa, its AED 2,280 and AED 575.
Once you have completed the application, you will receive an SMS in case there are documents that are missing. Applicants should attach the required documents within 30 days, otherwise their application will be cancelled. If your application is approved, you will be notified through SMS and email.
Earlier this year, when the UAE government announced the changes to the visa schemes, it had said that “the new system of entry and residence aims at attracting and retaining global talents and skilled workers from all over the world, boosting the competitiveness and flexibility of the job market and fostering a high sense of stability among UAE residents and families.”
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