Down and out in Dubai

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1. It won't last

At a conference last week in the City, Gerard Lyons, chief economist and global head of research at Standard Chartered Bank, said there have been plenty of booms in the Middle East before - and they've all turned to busts. The last one was in 1981 and the region only recovered in the late 1990s. According to Lyons, the Gulf is now hostage to the danger that a) oil prices and b) the US dollar may fall.

In future, however, Lyons predicts the main threat to growth will be a lack of skilled staff. He also predicts booming infrastructure investment will lead to a deeper financial market, as infrastructure assets are securitised and derivatives engineered.

2. It's hard to swap roles once you're there

If you're a foreigner living or working in Dubai, you'll need a local 'sponsor' to stay in the country. Your sponsor is typically your employer and has to apply for a work and residency visa on your behalf. He or she will also be considered responsible if you step out of line.

This is all fine - until you want to move from one sponsor to another. In the past, expats have had to wait six months before the Dubai government would issue a new labour card allied to the new sponsor/employer. The good news is that, in Dubai at least, this was lifted last August when the Dubai labour ministry decided everyone who's worked for an employer for more than a year can get a new permit simply after paying the fees.

However, sponsorship is still an issue in Qatar, where it can't be transferred unless you've worked for a company for at least two years - and that company will have to give you a letter 'releasing' you from them. Jennifer Westall, an associate in the Qatar office of law firm Eversheds, told the London conference that the sponsorship issue can be off-putting to expats.

3. You'll won't be allowed back home

OK, this is a slight exaggeration, but in Qatar you'll need a written exit permit from your sponsor if you want to travel abroad: if your employer says you have to stay put, that's the way it is.

This looks set to change - Shaikh Hamad, the Qatari Prime Minister, was reported in the Gulf News in May as saying system is close to slavery and needs to be changed - nefarious employers are blackmailing employees and preventing them from going home.

4. The perks aren't what they were

The Financial Times says taxes are on their way up - last week Bahrain introduced a 1% social insurance tax on the salaries of both nationals and expatriates in an effort to fund unemployment benefits. And on 1 July, Dubai is imposing a road toll (Salik) that the FT says will cost drivers US$1 a time when they pass key points on the Al Garhoud Bridge and Shaikh Zayed Road.

Meanwhile, Thomas Kelly, head of asset management at Taib Bank Bahrain, told delegates at last week's conference that finance employees now work harder than they used to during the summer months - "There's no longer eight weeks' holiday during Ramadan - in the evenings in particular, it's one of the best times of the year for networking."

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