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European and Russian expats opt for freelance jobs in UAE

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Demand is high for freelancers, with companies looking to fill positions that don't require full-time commitment
  • Job visa applications predicted to increase by 25-30%
  • Blockchain and fintech the most popular visa requests in 2022
  • More expat workers means a healthy increase in new companies

UAE job visa applications will increase by nearly one third this year, with many expats from Europe and Russia opting for freelance roles, the managing director of recruitment and HR consultancy Connect Group told AGBI

Aaron Portero forecasts that visa applications will rise at least 25 to 30 percent in 2023. This is on top of a record number of applications in 2022 for visas to work at its various UAE-based clients. 

“The UAE job market has made a strong comeback post-pandemic with the help of new government initiatives and measures,” said Portero. “With expats rushing to the country on the lookout for a job, we believe that the UAE job market will continue to see exponential growth.”

In 2022 visa requests for positions in the blockchain industry jumped 60 percent year-on-year, while those for jobs at fintech firms surged 40 percent over the same period, Connect Group estimates. Visa applications for roles at IT and logistics industry clients rose 20 percent and 18 percent respectively. 

“In recent times we have witnessed an increase in relocation from European countries due to the lure of tax-free income and the unprecedented energy crisis looming over the continent,” said Portero, noting the Russia-Ukraine war has also swelled the number of foreigners seeking to make the UAE their home. 

Last year 17 percent of the visas that Connect Group issued were to clients from European countries.

“Companies are looking to move their HQs to the Middle East for better tax benefits. Skilled personnel are leaving – particularly from the IT sector – and people in general are seeking a better work life balance,” said Portero. 

Reforms to UAE freelance visa rules have helped swell the country’s self-employed workforce. Last year Connect Group reported a 400 percent annual increase in the number of freelance visa applications it received. 

“There’s huge demand among businesses for freelancers – both because companies are hamstrung with budgets or are looking to fill positions that don’t quite require a full-time commitment,” said Portero.

Portero said they also see a lot of customers relocating from Russia, “using the freelance visa opportunity to get themselves and their families to a safer place. Some of the top industries for freelance are consulting, content creators, tutors, fitness trainers and IT specialists.”

Around 60 percent of freelance visa applications are from UAE residents and 40 percent from people currently living abroad but who want to relocate to the country, Connect Group estimates. 

“One of the main reasons why UAE residents are switching to freelance visas is because employers are keen to hire people who already have their visa in place,” added Portero.

The rising number of expat workers comes as the Gulf has seen a healthy increase in the number of new companies setting up in the region.

PRO Partner Group (PPG), a Dubai-based firm that helps businesses set up operations in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar, said that 2021 was one of its best years, despite the pandemic.

“And then 2022 kept growing. We ended up about 23 percent up year-on-year,” said Nazar Musa, CEO of PPG.

In terms of the source markets over half of new companies setting up in the Gulf came from the UK, US and France, said Musa, followed by Germany, Japan, Singapore and South Africa, and a small but growing number from South America.

Dubai-based CBD Corporate Services, which also helps companies set up in the UAE, said it has seen a lot of enquiries from Russian individuals and companies looking to set up business in the UAE.

“The UAE remains open for business with Russian individuals and organisations. At CBD, we have seen an uptick in foreign direct investment (FDI) from Russia. In 2022 we saw an over 34 percent increase in market entrants, with trading being the most sought-after business activity,” a spokesperson said.

“Despite the EU sanctions against Russia remaining in place, we still expect FDI and new market entrants to continue an upward trajectory, anticipating Russian businesses to have an additional market share in the UAE of over 20 percent by the end of 2023.”

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