By Marta Lillo
Many of the world’s high-net-worth individuals have chosen United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a private wealth hub. The country saw the highest net inflow of wealthy individuals worldwide in 2022, with more than 5,200 HNWIs relocating to the country, figures show. This trend is expected to continue this year, with an anticipated inflow of another 4,500.
This influx of millionaires has increased the UAE's richest 1% net worth threshold to $1.6 million, compared with Saudi Arabia's $740,000 exclusive limit, according to global property consultancy firm Knight Frank.
Dubai, UAE's cosmopolitan heart, is a magnet for most migrating millionaires, with its safe haven status and favorable tax rates drawing around 3,500 HNWIs in 2022 alone, reports say. The city's real estate dynamics reflect much of this prosperity, with more than 77,700 transactions conducted since January 2023, compared with 700 in the first half of 1997, according to Dubai Land Department (DLD) figures.
Most of the HNWIs living in or relocating to the UAE seek the country’s golden visas, some even applying for a second or third passport.
UAE investors seeking EB-5 and other global residency visas
UAE investors and wealthy expats are counting on the country's economic expansion and escalating wealth to opt for secondary residency-and-citizenship by investment options worldwide.
In the case of the United States’ EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (EB-5), securities and litigation attorney Robert Cornish explains that with the recent influx of HNWI from Russia, Ukraine, and neighboring countries to UAE, the interest in investor visas is increasing.
However, other quality of life benefits drive local and expatriate investors’ interest in the EB-5 program.
"I am aware of many expatriates from China and India in the UAE that have explored availing themselves of EB-5 benefits (…) Like most participants in the EB-5 program, families wish to facilitate citizenship in the USA for their children in conjunction with their attendance at universities and colleges in the USA," Cornish said.
Immigration attorney Parisa Karaahmet from Fragomen added that “EB-5 offers a self-sponsored route to permanent residence that is not dependent on an employer’s willingness or ability to secure an H-1B visa number on behalf of a foreign national in the annual USCIS lottery.”
This need for UAE investors to strategize a reliable path to live and work in the US would explain the noticeable increase in the issuance of EB-5 program visas from UAE citizens between 2021 and 2022. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued 815 last year, compared with the 713 the previous year.
Cornish and Karaahmet concur that these investors’ interests are mainly TEA-designated projects with expedited processing.
“Rural and other zones where there are 'set-asides' for EB-5 applicants certainly are of increasing interest given the expedited processing that is available," Cornish said.
Karaahmet added: “Generally, investors are interested in TEA designated projects that will receive ‘priority’ processing from USCIS, such as rural projects, or projects that qualify for set-aside visas, which may result in overall faster adjudication for investors born in certain visa backlogged countries with long wait times, such as China or India. We also find that investors are interested in Regional Centers that are established, have a history of repayment for earlier projects, and otherwise appear to be reliable and trustworthy.”
The increasing economic development in UAE plays a role in its wealth
The country's GDP surged 7.9% to Dh 1.62 trillion ($442 million) last year, driven by the oil sector's and the government's economic diversification agenda, according to Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Center.
Since the pandemic, the government has pushed several strategies to bolster its economy, boosting its position as a powerhouse in the GCC region and the Middle East.
And projections indicate prosperity will continue, with GDP expected to remain robust, averaging 4.6% between 2022 and 2024, driven by higher oil prices and improved business confidence, according to the Arab Monetary Fund.