International immigrants in the UAE, who are a large share of the total population, face many obstacles to integration under the slightly unfavourable policies. Despite recent improvements, the UAE ranks in the bottom 5 out of the 56 MIPEX countries, only faring better than Indonesia, India, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The UAE scores 29 on the 100-point MIPEX scale (**2020 update: the score is now 30), while the average MIPEX country scored 49. Among MIPEX countries, the obstacles facing international migrants in the United Arab Emirates are greater than in most other MIPEX countries.
The United Arab Emirates’ approach to integration is categorised by MIPEX as ‘immigration without integration’ because its policies still do not reflect the UAE’s reality as a country of immigration. Although certain categories of international migrants are able to settle long-term in the UAE, they are denied basic rights and equal opportunities to participate in society. However, compared to the other ‘immigration without integration’ countries, the UAE has stronger policies regarding access to basic rights and equal opportunities (alongside Japan and Cyprus). Furthermore, thanks to the reforms implemented in the last five years, the country has improved immigrants’ access to basic rights. However, the UAE still needs to invest more in all three dimensions, especially in terms of equal opportunities, in order to adopt a more comprehensive approach to integration (e.g. similar to Turkey).
The United Arab Emirates’ approach to integration matters because state policies can influence whether or not integration works as a two-way process. The way that governments treat international migrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Drawing on 130 independent scientific studies using MIPEX, integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country. The UAE’s current policies may partially encourage the public to think of international migrants as their subordinates and as strangers. Internationally, the ‘Top Ten’ MIPEX countries treat immigrants not only as equals and potential citizens, but also as neighbours and invest in integration as a two-way process for society.
Furthermore, obstacles emerge for immigrants in many areas of life in the United Arab Emirates. Although immigrants have favourable opportunities for family reunification and to access healthcare, policies in all the other areas are rather unfavourable. In particular, political participation emerged as critically unfavourable for integration.
Compared to the situation in the other 56 MIPEX countries, international migrants in the UAE are confronted with the most restrictive political participation policies, and some of the weakest policies on labour market mobility, permanent residence and access to nationality policies. Compared to other Middle Eastern countries included in MIPEX, the United Arab Emirates has less favourable policies than Israel but more advanced policies than Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
- Labour market mobility: Slightly unfavourable: Immigrants face considerable obstacles in accessing the labour market, as they do not enjoy the same access to the labour market as Emirati nationals. Furthermore, they receive little general and targeted support to improve their professional skills or opportunities.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: The UAE have improved their policies in 2019 regarding family reunification by lifting the residence requirement for application and by adopting a slightly less selective definition of dependency. However, the restrictive economic and accommodation requirements still represent a considerable obstacle to the enjoyment of these rights.
- Education: Slightly unfavourable: although migrant pupils can legally access public compulsory education, they face numerous practical obstacles, and the UAE does relatively little to encourage and support them in the education system. Undocumented immigrants do not have access to education.
- Health: Slightly favourable: Legal immigrants have access to the Emirati health system. By contrast, asylum seekers and refugees face additional requirements, as the UAE is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and lawful employment is required for these categories to access the health system. Undocumented immigrants must pay or subscribe to an insurance policy to access healthcare in the country. Some forms of support to access are provided, such as the presence of qualified interpreters as well as the involvement of immigrants in information provision, as well as healthcare service design and delivery.
- Political participation: Critically unfavourable: International immigrants are completely denied the opportunity to participate in public life in the Emirates, as foreign citizens have no right to vote or to join political parties, to be consulted by policymakers and no support is provided for immigrant organisations at a national level.
- Permanent residence: Unfavourable: the United Arab Emirates ranks in the bottom five in the MIPEX 56 in terms of permanent residence, as international migrants have to satisfy very selective economic or employment requirements to be able to obtain permanent residence. The long-term visa programmes are available mainly for investors or entrepreneurs.
- Access to nationality: Unfavourable: the UAE ranks in the bottom five in the MIPEX 56 in terms of access to nationality. The path to Emirati citizenship is long (>10 years) and burdensome, as the law sets rather restrictive language, economic and criminal record requirements. The UAE has not followed international reform trends to open up birthright citizenship entitlements for their Emirati-born children. **Update 2020: a new law has been approved and, as of 2021, those eligible to obtain Emirati nationality will be able to retain their original nationality.
- Anti-discrimination: Slightly unfavourable: with the Federal Decree Law No.2 of 2015, the UAE government passed its first comprehensive anti-discrimination law, marking a significant improvement in this area. This law covers discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and belief across a variety of sectors and provides some enforcement mechanisms. However, the current legislation does not cover discrimination on the ground of nationality and the country still lacks an equality body with a general mandate on the matter.