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UAE announces five-year student visas and residency opportunities

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The UAE has introduced a new five-year visa for international students
  • The move highlights the country’s determination to further expand its international student enrolment and the internationalisation of its education system

International students studying in the United Arab Emirates will now be eligible for a five-year student visa, replacing the one-year visa term in place until now. In addition, plans are being finalised to allow students performing exceptionally well to apply for a 10-year residency and students who live as dependents of their parents in the UAE to apply for a visa extension after graduation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, made the announcements last week.

The news comes as the UAE works to lessen its reliance on the oil and gas sector and to move the country further along its path to becoming a knowledge-based economy.

More branch campuses expected

The UAE has for years been aiming to be an education hub in the region and indeed, it hosts the second-highest number of university branch campuses in the world after only China. Mohammad Abdullah, managing director of the Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) and the Dubai Knowledge Park, said that the expectation is for still more branch campuses to set up in the region. He cautions, however, that universities applying to start branches in DIAC will be carefully assessed and that a rigorous selection process will be applied.

Dubai is home to more than 200 nationalities today and 90% of the city’s population comes from abroad, which is one reason that international branch campuses are such a natural fit. Speaking with Gulf News, Dr Warren Fox, chief of higher education for the UAE’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, noted that over 40% of Dubai’s 30,000 international students are enrolled at branch campuses operated by some of the top universities in the world.

Of the UAE’s new student visa rules, Mr Fox said,

“We are expecting significant growth in the number of students coming to study in UAE. This decision will not just benefit UAE economy, but also help higher education institutions and students. It is a win-win situation for everyone as you can now complete your education and explore future prospects.”

New visa allowances will facilitate employment

The UAE is not alone in extending visa rights and work periods for foreign students. The country joins Canada, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, and China in introducing policies that make it easier for international students to study, work, and sometimes immigrate.

Such measures are aimed at attracting students who increasingly expect their education to lead directly to desired career outcomes. A British Council report noted that,

“International student mobility patterns are evolving based on increased education provision globally and students’ inclination towards programmes with tangible employability outcomes.”

Mr Abdullah (cited earlier), said the visa extension announcement for international students will inspire new strategies at DIAC to help students progress toward careers: “We are looking to work even more towards tying different industries to academic institutions.”

Already competitive

The UAE is already known for its well-considered international education strategies. Last year, the British Council published its Shape of Global Higher Education report based on an analysis of international higher education policies across 38 countries. The UAE was ranked #2 for quality assurance and degree recognition, and # 5 for openness and mobility.

Sally Ward, regional manager, higher education for the British Council, said, “It is really impressive, actually, for such a small country. They have made this very conscious decision to be open, to make this an area of focus, to promote the UAE as a destination of choice, to provide a wide variety of universities and courses and to find ways to encourage students to come to a stable community where they know they are going to get a high-quality education.”

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