With the world gradually emerging from the pandemic and the economic fallout that it has left in its wake, people are starting to look at where to work, live and invest, or even all three. But the landscape has changed in the last fourteen months or so. The pandemic has left the world in a unique situation, where practically all the markets and economic cycles are aligned. That has resulted in new opportunities, giving people looking for a change of direction or hankering to open a brand-new chapter the chance to assess places that may not have been on their radar before. For several reasons, the Middle East looks like it may well be one of the main beneficiaries of this. It would however be disingenuous to suggest that the potential boom in the job market in the region is down to anything other than a lot of work, planning and investment that has been going on for years.
I am going to focus on three countries – UAE, Qatar and Saudi, but there are cases to be made for several others, and the region as a whole is buoyant.
Even during the pandemic, the UAE, and Dubai in particular, was in the news for so-called influencers on “much needed” holidays further extending their full fifteen minutes of fame. It was also the go to destination for Europe’s top football teams to carry out their warm weather training. Do not underestimate the powerful effect such coverage has, especially when the rest of the world is practically confined to their own four walls.
In recent years the UAE government has put in several measures to attract foreign investment and foreign migrants in the form of very relaxed taxation, a simple and straightforward business registration process and the introduction of new visa categories specifically targeted at attracting more professionals and their families, to name just a few. Instead of merely being seen as a safe and secure bubble in the MENA region, it is now a legitimate alternative for people from the US and Europe looking to spend time in a beautiful, culturally diverse, upwardly mobile and very warm location. Not only that, but it is also a place where people can further their career and are able to grasp opportunities that are harder to come by in the more traditional heartlands of London and New York, and ones a lot closer to home than the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong.
Little wonder then that the economy is already showing strong recovery, and the IMF are predicting that recovery to continue. Even last year, Dubai’s non-oil foreign trade was in excess of US$320 billion.
The first thing anyone thinks of when they hear Qatar, is the 2022 world cup but you have to look beyond the tournament itself. Qatar has not spent US$200 billion simply to have some nice stadia and to have the likes of Ronaldo and Kevin De Bruyne or indeed Gareth Southgate grace their shores for 5 weeks. They have spent that eyewatering amount of money to put themselves in the shop window and to tell the world that they are very much open for business. You can be sure that in the next few years they will be pulling out every single stop to make it work, and there will be numerous opportunities if people are willing to get on board and give it a go. It is likely to be an incredibly exciting and fulfilling time to be part of that journey.
It is rare you hear Saudi Arabia without the phrase “opening up” coming swiftly on its coattails, and though some of that may be down to lazy journalism, it is certainly based on fact. The kingdom is using sport as one vehicle to put itself at the forefront of the world’s attention. In December 2019 it hosted the Anthony Joshua title fight against Ruiz, and is one of the frontrunners to host the Joshua Fury fight later this year, which could well be the biggest bout in history.
Like all of the gulf states there is a realisation that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when they cannot rely on oil money. Some of that shift will be via the tourism route, but they will also be looking to establish themselves as a business hub.
The Middle East is rich in opportunities, and now is the chance to become part of the journey as its countries, especially the three mentioned, open up and strive to shake off their past, to embrace the world and be a real part of forging the next chapter of not just the region but the post COVID landscape.
Iain Rainey is the Managing Director of Jameson Legal. He specialises in the recruitment of lawyers in the Middle East.