The introduction of 10-year residency visas for certain highly skilled workers should have an all-round positive impact on the UAE’s healthcare industry, experts say.
The visas, which should be available towards the end of the year and which were green lit by the UAE Cabinet in May, affect specialists working in medicine, science, research, and technical fields, and also cover family members. Once available, they will likely ‘have a positive impact on both the healthcare system and the professionals delivering it’, said one doctor who has worked at a major Abu Dhabi hospital for the last few months.
‘I believe that it may impact those who are planning to only stay for a few years. It will likely make it easier for them to continue working here longer than they may have expected,’ said the doctor, who works as an emergency medicine consultant physician.
At present, expatriate employees are generally given residency visas lasting between one and two years, while expatriate employers can receive visas lasting three years.
But for those doctors who are only still considering living in the UAE, the idea of a reduction in paperwork and time spent renewing visas comes second to the stability the long-term visas could offer, said Amir Firdaus, the CEO of Burjeel Group.
‘I myself am only here for four to five months at the moment and in that time, in speaking with doctors, especially when we do share with them that it’s a two-year plan [and keeping in mind] it’s an automatic renewal and what not, it’s still obviously does set perhaps what would be a little bit of trepidation within professionals,’ Mr Firdaus said.
‘It’s not only doctors, it could be also healthcare workers, people of my category as well to consider. Will it be a short stint or will there be some sense of longevity? That was there to a certain extent. Not too profound but nonetheless there.’
‘I think the longer visas will improve the retention of healthcare professionals’
And by giving doctors stability and the offer to stay put for longer, the healthcare system can only stand to benefit – both financially and in terms of the quality of care provided, Mr Firdaus said.
‘From [an] economic perspective I think [it’s] helpful,’ he said, adding that patients will also benefit from having doctors who have more time to get to know the system. ‘To be culturally correct in terms of representation, understanding the healthcare system, the insurance care system, all of that I think comes from being in the system for some time.’
It is a sentiment shared by the Abu Dhabi doctor. ‘I think the longer visas will improve the retention of healthcare professionals,’ he said. ‘Longer visas eliminate the administrative work one must complete to renew their visa, making it easier for someone to continue working and living in the UAE. The longer a healthcare professional has been working here, the more familiar they are with the culture. They also have a better understanding of how the healthcare system works here. I believe this would improve the quality of healthcare delivery.’
The ten-year visas could also help reduce gaps in the market for certain skilled workers. In March of this year, a report on future healthcare demands compiled by investment bank Alpen Capital showed a need for more nurses. The research also indicated a rise in demand for specialised healthcare workers based on plans by Dubai to attract half a million medical tourists annually by 2021.
‘Although there is not too much of a gap in the supply of physicians and dentists, there is a sizeable gap in the amount of nurses that are required,’ Krishna Dhanak, executive director of Alpen Capital Middle East, told The National.
‘Competition is very high to attract staff when there is an oversupply of facilities.
‘We are seeing a lot of interest in investing in specialised healthcare centres in the market, such as obesity, diagnostics, postnatal, and homecare.’
Overall, the entire country’s global ranking in medical tourism could benefit, said Mr Firdaus.
‘It means that job attractiveness and [the] UAE being a potential area where you may have doctors that are basically looking to settle, [thereby] making the UAE what would be a hub for healthcare, could potentially rise.’
As for medical tourism, ‘potentially, it will certainly help differentiate [the] UAE from that particular perspective and that could add value in creating centres of excellence where we’ve got doctors who are highly trained,’ he said.
The 10-year visas could also be handed out to ‘exceptional university graduates’, The National reported, with foreign students being given five-year visas instead of having to renew their residency on a yearly basis. Such moves could result in foreign graduates choosing to take on longer degrees – such as medicine – before settling in the country to work.
And so, as future graduates and those healthcare professionals already workingin the industry contemplate a longer stay in the UAE, will the 10-year visas affect the Abu Dhabi doctor’s long-term plans? Not really, he said. Aside from the paperwork.
‘Personally, it will not likely affect how long I stay in the UAE as I have always planned to stay for many years. It will be very nice not to have to renew my visa earlier, though.’
About Zaineb Al Hassani
Zaineb Al Hassani was a health reporter and senior editor at The National newspaper, the premier English-language paper in the Middle East, between 2010 and 2016. She spent the following two years working as a senior editor at the Delma Institute, a think tank covering the economic, political, security, and social issues affecting the Middle East and North Africa, before moving back to Europe. Zaineb is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Oxford Business Group and The Guardian.