Pots of gold? The 10-year visa for the arts and culture sector (and others)

The newly launched Thrive in Abu Dhabi programme is the Emirate’s promotion for long-term Golden Visas (and in theory a pathway to citizenship too) for expat talent working, studying, and/or investing in key sectors in Abu Dhabi.

This adds a little more information to the UAE’s Gold Visa initiative, which has been a big hit particularly with businessfolk: more than 7,000 Gold Visas have been issued in Dubai alone in the year or so since its announcement. Available since December, offered for 10 years and indefinitely renewable, the Golden Visa is aimed at investors, entrepreneurs, “students with promising scientific ability” and a clutch of other qualifying professions under the catch-all label of “special talent”.

Since November, that last group now includes creative folk in art and culture.

Apart from removing the need to renew a visa every couple of years, the big attraction is that it provides both sides with some long-term clarity. Presumably you’ll be staying for the full ten years to build something worthwhile here; and the country benefits from a solid addition to the artistic ecosystem.

At a practical level, the Golden Visa is good because families are covered too; it includes visas for spouses (legal partners only, of course), children, and one set of parents “based on a number of specified conditions”. There’s no need for a national sponsor, and the visa holder can sponsor one domestic worker (“subject to relevant regulations”).

In theory it seems you could apply for a Golden Visa in any emirate. In practice only Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be geared up to process applications; and Abu Dhabi appears to be playing catch-up here – it seems there have already been a number of applications in Dubai for Golden Visas in the field of culture and art. Hala Al Badri, DG of Dubai Culture, told a LitFest session that 69 Gold Visas in culture were issued in 2020 with a further 59 in process.

Applying for a 10-year visa

It’s not exactly clear how those applications were made, and the promo for Thrive in Abu Dhabi says “the application process is being finalised at the federal level … Further information will be communicated as it becomes available”. Your best bet is probably to check on the TAMM website.

Alternatively, there is an existing website that is geared to the entrepreneurial category (it’s even called business.goldenvisa.ae) and doesn’t seem able to accommodate non-business applications yet – when you start the application you’re warned that “you must be an established entrepreneur to proceed” and neither ‘culture’ nor ‘arts’ is included in the dropdown list of qualifying sectors.

At least it outlines the likely procedure. You apply via the website, specify whether you want to be associated with Abu Dhabi or Dubai (at present this means specifying the relevant business incubator – Hub71 for Abu Dhabi, Area 2071 for Dubai), fill out the personal details, include a short video about yourself and your plans (!), upload supporting documents, and pay the fee (a bargain AED 1,150 for a Dubai visa: there’s no figure yet for Abu Dhabi but presumably it will be the same).

Applications will be reviewed within 30 days – you can get a short-term visa to cover this period if you need one – and if you’re approved you will be invited to upload supporting documents.

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai say you’ll need some kind of recommendation from a relevant Government body. For Dubai applicants in the arts/culture sector that presumably means Dubai Culture and/or the Ministry of Culture and Youth (MCKD as was); for Abu Dhabi it’s “one of the specialised governmental cultural agencies in Abu Dhabi” – TCA Abu Dhabi is the only one we know, but there are 60+ Abu Dhabi Government entities listed here.

The ‘Creative Visa’

All this might also be part of the Creative Visa initiative that DCT Abu Dhabi announced this week. Apparently this aims to “increase opportunities for residency and employment in Abu Dhabi while simultaneously bolstering the thriving creative scene in the United Arab Emirates”. 

You want more of this? Here’s the official quote from Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi: “Abu Dhabi is committed to not just nurturing the creative talent found within our borders but to also extending our resources to innovators from the region and around the world. This mutually beneficial system will attract pioneering ideas and creativity to Abu Dhabi, as the Creative Visa will offer participants access to world-class facilities and infrastructure, as well as an attractive, safe and inspiring living and working environment for individuals and families.” Got it? We’ll be testing you on this later.

Apart from the eligibility – “the Creative Visa is open to a wide range of talented individuals operating within key fields across all domains within the cultural and creative industries, including heritage, performing arts, visual arts, design and crafts, gaming and e-sports, media and publishing” – there are basically no details about what a Creative Visa actually is. So is it a ten-year visa? For freelancers or employees? With families? Apart from the press release the hard information consists of one page on the DCT website when you can register your interest and agree to be contacted by DCT Abu Dhabi “and/or its third party representatives”.


Clearly the Golden Visa isn’t the same thing as citizenship, though the Thrive in Abu Dhabi promotion does describe its programme as including a pathway to citizenship – albeit without offering any details.

It’s always been difficult for non-Emiratis to obtain Emirati citizenship, and on the rare occasions that it’s happened it was usually as a gift from the ruler. But at the end of January Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid outlined new procedures whereby citizenship could be granted to “investors, specialised talents and professionals including scientists, doctors, engineers, artists, authors and their families”.

The new directives “aim to attract talents that contribute to our development journey,” said Sheikh Mohammed. On the other hand, they don’t exactly provide anyone with the possibility of actually applying for citizenship; instead, individuals have to be nominated by government or court officials – “the UAE cabinet, local Emiri courts and executive councils will nominate those eligible for the citizenship under clear criteria set for each category.”

In the case of candidates from the cultural field – “intellectuals, artists and creatives” – those criteria include at least international awards “and a recommendation letter from the government institution of their field”. Good luck with that.

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