A federal law granting residency visas to owners of freehold property will be introduced within the year, a senior government official has disclosed. The proposal, welcomed by property developers, will allow the owners to obtain a six-month renewable residency visa, regardless of their nationality or the size and value of the property, said Brig Gen Nasser al Minhali, the acting director general of the federal Department of Naturalisation and Residency (DNR).
Brig Gen Minhali said the aim was to create a unified visa system related to home purchases. “It is a security organisational procedure,” he said. “We do not want each emirate to develop procedures on its own, so we will unify it under the Ministry of Interior.” Residency visas granted in the past would remain valid, he said. But it would not be possible to renew them until the federal law was implemented. He refused to reveal further details, as the law is still being studied.
Whatever the department’s stated aims, property market insiders said the introduction of a single property visa system for the whole country would benefit a housing market that has recently been less buoyant after several years of growth…
In several emirates, including Dubai, prospective homeowners seeking residency have relied on property developers to act as sponsors for visas. The three-year visa, which allowed the holder to live in the emirate but not to work, was a significant incentive for many buyers, especially those from Iran, Pakistan and India.
There was confusion, however, over whether developers could actually guarantee these visas, as some promised, and whether the DNR would issue them. The situation was clearer in Abu Dhabi, where developers said there was not even the possibility of a residency visa for foreign buyers.
Industry insiders said a single nationwide system was vital in easing confusion over which emirate had which entitlement. This would help to restore confidence to the market, they said. “It has to be federal; that way it carries weight,” said Mr Nimer, who added that the market would not fully recover until home finance became more readily available.
Vincent Easton, the sales director at Sherwoods Independent Property Consultants, said a single law would clarify an issue that had been “opaque for too long”. However, he and several other leading estate agents said the visas’ six-month validity was too short.
Liz O’Connor, the director of residential sales and leasing at Better Homes, said the proposal may encourage a few cash buyers to start thinking about purchasing. But she added: “Due to the short-term nature of the proposed visa this does not give buyers a sense of security if they are thinking of staying, moving to or retiring in Dubai, as property for many is a long-term investment.” Ms O’Connor added that many people in Dubai purchased property believing they would be granted a residence visa. In many cases, that had not materialised.
An official at the Dubai Land Department said the way visas were granted had been under review for some time. Mohammad Sultan Thani, the department’s assistant director-general for excellence and organisational governance, said housing officials wanted to stop developers from being able to say they could “guarantee” buyers a visa – a claim that helped companies to sell properties, but was by no means assured and gave prospective investors false hope. Dubai’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency last year criticised developers that promoted housing projects in this way, pointing out that all visa applications were subject to approval from the DNR.
A committee to examine the system proposed that the title deed for a freehold or long-term leasehold property would itself qualify a buyer to apply for a residency visa, cutting the developer out of the process. Mr Thani said the proposed law would be better for landowners than sponsorship by the developer. “At the moment, property owners can be sponsored by the developer, as if you were working for them, and your visa belongs to them,’’ he said. “But if there was a problem between you and the developer, it would have the power to cancel your visa.”
While admitting that the prospect of residency visas would be “very nice for investors”, he doubted people bought for that reason alone. “For some nationalities it’s a motivating factor,” Mr Thani said, “but overall people buy as a long-term investment, to live in the property, to earn rental revenue or to sell for a profit.”
Robert Ditcham and Haneen Dajani, The National (Abu Dhabi), 17/02/2009