This morning, a piece of legislation was passed in Qatar that might go undiscussed in the Western press among all the political news but has huge implications on the country’s and indeed the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystems.
According to reports, Qatar, which is currently facing a regional boycott led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, passed a draft law that will grant permanent residency cards to some foreigners going forward.
Under the law, according to a report on Bloomberg, children of Qatari women married to foreigners, expats who have extended long and notable services to the state, and those that have unique skills and competencies will be offered permanent resident cards.
These cards will grant them some rights and privileges beyond what expat workers get but less than what Qatari nationals do.
While I am not aware of any reason if and why there is a political hue to this announcement, there is a reason to be optimistic of what it would (perhaps indirectly) mean for the country and the Gulf region’s entrepreneurial ecosystems.
To be clear, Qatar is not a Gulf pioneer on this matter.
In February this year, it was the UAE that announced a new visa entry system geared towards attracting professional talent.
The system was announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who said that the new scheme would be released in phases.
While the first phase includes tourism, health, and educational visas, the second phase will include talent acquisition in health, scientific, research, technical and cultural fields.
“The new system aims to attract entrepreneurs, pioneers and talented minds in the medical, scientific, research, IT and intellectual sectors,” a tweet by him, in English, said at that time.
He added that the new scheme aimed to develop a culture that will act as an incubator for talent and innovation.
Saudi Arabia too has made clear its intention on this matter. In an interview last year, HH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia was planning to give permanent residency to foreign workers similar to the US Green Card system.
Why is this significant?
In my over three years of interviewing entrepreneurs and CEOs in the Gulf region, I found one constant gripe that exists across sectors and countries—talent.
And specifically, how there is a lack of talent, that if available it is expensive, and if brought on board, there is no saying when the talent leaves you for someone or somewhere else.
One tech entrepreneur recently told me that finding and keeping talent is more of a headache for him than raising money for his startup.
These steps by the three economically forward Gulf states go a long way in fixing that problem, albeit it is likely that they will at least initially, impact sectors and companies that have a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) factor to their growth.
To illustrate via an example, let’s take the example of a skilled Indian engineer working in robotics, and an exceptional cardiologist from Jordan. At any given point, if they decide to leave home shores, they have the choices of Australia, the US, Canada, UK, and Europe before they even think of the Gulf.
To lure them away, it is more than likely that their employers in the Gulf would pay more than a fair market price—with the hope that they will come on board, and stay long enough to have a meaningful impact on the company’s growth.
But would they? At this point, the hope is that the two would put down roots in the Gulf and start building a life and career, which will contribute to their well being and to the growth of their company and country of residence.
But with no recourse to a permanent state of residency, that even nation-states like Singapore and Hong Kong offer, and thus having to deal with all the uncertainties that come with it, it is more than likely that the two are considering their time in the Gulf to be a stepping stone to their ultimate destination.
And this is where we are today, where the Gulf is not the number one destination for exceptional talent especially in the most-in demand fields, and whatever talent does make it to our shores is looking mostly do make the best of their time here (with respect to salaries and thus job hopping) while in the search for more permanent shores.
I realize that I am generalizing here, and there will be employers who offer exceptional stability to their employees, and many expats that find the Gulf perfectly appropriate to their long term needs. But they are exceptions and not the norm.
I also realize that there is a cultural aspect in terms of too many foreigners in states that do not have large local populations, and what impact the influx of foreign-born permanent residents might have on local societal ecosystems. I am sure there are more knowledgeable people than me in local governments to address them as they see fit.
But within my remit of understanding and reporting on what it takes to build stable, evolving, and exceptional entrepreneurial ecosystems like those in the west, I think we all should welcome the aforementioned steps taken by the Gulf leadership to that effect.