As a country where expatriates outnumber the local population, the UAE relies heavily on expatriate labour. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports expatriates account for more than 85% of the workforce (2014)*. Figures by the UAE National Bureau of Statistics in 2013 indicated that unemployment among the total number of UAE nationals ready to work stood at 20%. In order to promote employment of UAE nationals, both in the public and private sectors, the UAE government introduced the Emiratisation programme in 2004.  Other Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have introduced similar programmes.

As per the programme and the Labour Law, UAE nationals should be given priority when offering jobs. In theory, if the Ministry of Labour’s records show there is an unemployed UAE national that can perform a role, it can deny recruitment of a non national for that role.

The Emiratisation programme applies to both local and international companies operating in the UAE. It is not currently expected to apply to free zones, however as each free zone has different requirements the authority of each free zone should be consulted.  A company that has 50 employees or more, must employ a minimum percentage of UAE nationals as set out by the UAE federal law. The number is currently set at 15% however there is a strong desire for this to be increased in the next few years so when employing staff companies should check with the Ministry of Labour.

The programme is tied in with the UAE’s aim to diversify and shift to a knowledge based economy, by encouraging UAE nationals to continue to higher education, creating jobs, by encouraging private companies to hire UAE nationals and by nurturing an environment that will support local entrepreneurs.

Although Emiratisation has been around for more than a decade, results so far are seen mostly in the public sector. This is partly due to the higher salaries offered by government and semi-government entities.

To ensure this does not remain the case, initiatives under the Emiratisation programme are being launched such as Absher (launched in 2012) to help with practical matters such as creating jobs, training, hiring and encouraging private companies to hire UAE nationals. This particular programme involves Emirati graduates being hired and trained in private organisations for a period of 8 months. The Ministry of Presidential affairs bears 30% of their salary. The initiative is supervised by Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council, the Emirates Nationals Development Programme, and the National Human Resources Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia). 

A foreign company can benefit from Emiratisation as by having locals on board can be an efficient way to connect with government and local enterprises. Implementing the Emiratisation programme however can come with difficulties typically faced by a multicultural workplace such as cultural issues, training and performance, pay and benefits expectations.

The National Human Resources Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia) and the Ministry of Labor are responsible for developing further Emiratisation guidelines. It is wise to consult with both authorities regarding employment of UAE nationals to ensure the correct quota is met as any company found not meeting the requirements can face a fine.

* http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=341524818&Country=United%20Arab%20Emirates&topic=Summary&subtopic=Fact+sheet

Council of Ministers Resolutions on Training and Employment of UAE citizens in the private sector: 
Emirates Nationals Development Programme:
National HR Development and Employment Authority: http://www.tanmia.ae/English/Pages/default.aspx
The Absher initiative website can be accessed here (Arabic only):