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Expatriate Growth Poised to Take Off in Dubai, UAE

HR executives for multi-national companies with a presence in Dubai may want to brace themselves for a dramatic increase in global assignments to the UAE. I have the privilege of being in Dubai now, shortly after the announcement that the UAE won the bid to host the World Exposition in 2020. This town is buzzing with excitement.

During my travels here, I’ve had the opportunity to talk business with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nakheel and the Dubai International Financial Centre. Whether we are talking master projects, including hundreds of new development projects set to be completed before the Expo, or the steady growth of foreign direct investment into Dubai and the UAE, it is clear that any slowdown realized due to the crash in 2008 will soon be a distant memory.

Expatriates in Dubai

Get ready for Dubai to come back swinging with bigger projects, wildly innovative construction and whimsical advancements in technology, infrastructure and sustainability. I can only look on with awe at the masterful blending of function and creativity apparent in every project plan we have seen and discussed. Without a doubt, this city is a playground for visionaries with money.

But, I digress a bit. Let’s get into talent needs.

Emirates, the UAE’s local population, only make up 33 percent of the entire population here. The rest of the workers are expatriates. Dubai relies on its expat community to not only move its projects forward, but also train younger Emirates to eventually take on big roles at the companies leading the development charge. In fact, when questioned about sustainability (this city has the world’s highest carbon footprint), a representative from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding openly discussed some of the climatic challenges here and the country’s commitment to “doing better.” He even modestly exclaimed, “please, come help us if you can.” While the extravagance here can be perceived as arrogance, the reality is that the knowledge and diversity that expats bring to Dubai is appreciated – and needed.

Considering the amount of development needed to host the 2020 Expo with flare, Dubai will need to bring in more talent at all levels from many industries. The Gulf News reports that the job market may return to pre-2008 numbers, with the Expo expected to bring in some 200,000 jobs in retail, hospitality, engineering, real estate, construction, aviation and service. While this number seems huge, it’s not surprising. Dubai is not only adding to its plans in the current city center, but there are also plans to expand outward into the desert (including an entirely new city and airport just on the outskirts of the city heading towards Abu Dhabi). Further, while projects happen more slowly in many other parts of the world, that’s not the case here. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum is known for ensuring that even the toughest deadlines are met – and that takes a lot of labor.

Rumor has it that Dubai is looking to Europe and Asia Pacific to fill its professional jobs. Thus, there may be fewer expats coming directly from the United States. That said, we can expect U.S. expatriates already abroad to be moved around the UAE. Further, U.S. professionals in certain industries, especially in aviation, will be in high demand.

I only have one more day left here, but I am asking a lot of questions about U.S. expat growth and will certainly share any fun facts.  In the interim, here are three cool projects cued up be revealed before the Expo:

Bluewater’s Island and the Dubai Eye

Mohammad Bin Rashid City

Dubai Water Canal

Are you moving expatriates to Dubai? Please share your thoughts below.


VP, Client Services

VP of Business Development Northeast Region


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