The skyline of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – Ali Haider
Dubai’s expat community groups are full of bargains; everything from cars to gym subscriptions. The fire sales are a result of expats left jobless by the UAE’s coronavirus lock-down. Among them, thousands of British expats are trying to scrape back the pennies before they are forced to leave a place many call home.
The coronavirus lockdown has upended the lives of thousands of expats, turning their dream of a life abroad into a nightmare of uncertainty. Thousands have been made redundant, with strict visa regulations forcing them to return to the UK, with little time to catch their breath.
It’s almost 11 years since Selina Dixon traded her claustrophobic commute from Surrey into Central London for her expat dreams of Dubai.
“I was spending four hours a day on the train,” she tells The Telegraph.
The fashion marketer left behind the early morning drizzle and commuter grind, for a new life in the UAE. One which promised year-round sun, tax-free salaries, and the opportunity of adventure.
“It’s not about the glitz and glamour, whoever has been fortunate enough to live here know there is much more behind the façade,” she says.
An estimated 240,000 Britons call the UAE home, working as everything from air hostesses to teachers.
Dixon was made redundant a few weeks ago, now she is living off her meagre savings. In weeks her visa will expire, and she wont be able to renew it unless she finds a new job.
“Every day you wake up, you’re looking on LinkedIn. Speaking to contacts and your network, but then you have to be mindful there are so many people going through this.”
With thousands of people flying in and out of the UAE every day in normal times, the country was always vulnerable to Covid-19. A stringent lockdown saw swathes of the economy shut. Though some 40,000 cases of the virus have been registered, Dubai is slowly beginning to open up, yet the economic recovery will likely take many years.
Ninety per cent of the UAE’s population are expats, and a study out this month by Oxford Economics, a quantitative analysis firm, estimates that the country of nine million could lose up to 900,000 jobs, and some 10 per cent of its population – British expats are likely to be among the worst affected.
At least part of the difficulty lies in the UAE’s Kafala – or sponsorship – system. A visa scheme wherein residency is tied to your job. Companies may sponsor a foreigner for residency as long as they employ them, but the moment someone becomes unemployed, a count-down begins on the expiry of their visa.
As Dixon says, “Dubai is a place that without a visa – it’s difficult.”
Though the government has announced some visa waivers, those who have lost their jobs since March 1st have thirty days to find a new job, or their visas become invalid, and they will be hit with daily fines.
It means that those like Dixon may be forced to return to the UK for the first time in years. “It was not a choice that I was ready to make, but one that I may have to make.”
“I’ve been away [from the UK] for ten years, I’m going to have to start from scratch. Whilst I have the experience, it’s the network in the UK I’ll struggle with.”