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UAE offers ‘golden visas’ to coders as part of national IT skills programme

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The United Arab Emirates is offering visas to coders across the world as it attempts to attract talent to support its economic diversification
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched a programme to add 100,000 coders to its workforce over the next five years, in a bid to keep pace with the digital transformation of the global economy.The National Program for Coders, as the initiative is known, will offer “golden visas” to 100,000 entrepreneurs, owners of enterprises and startups specialised in coding.

With traditionally oil-reliant countries in the Middle East diversifying their economies, tech has been identified as an opportunity, but there is a shortage of people with the right tech skills and experience.

The programme, which has been established in collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, LinkedIn, Nvidia and Facebook, also wants to create 1,000 digital companies in the UAE.

Sultan Al Olama, UAE minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and remote work applications, said providing the opportunity for coders to obtain a golden visa aims to attract top international skillsets and talents in coding. People of all nationalities and age groups can apply for the visa.

As part of the programme, organisers will invite coders from around the world to find solutions to government, economic, technological, health and services challenges, and will also organise hackathons.

Dubai’s vice-president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, said the UAE’s youth need to know “that the future has new tools, speaks a different language and adopts online work methodologies”.

“We want them to be at the heart of this future. The National Program for Coders aims to engage local digital communities in the digital transformation of the UAE. It further highlights the UAE’s leading role in designing the future, embracing talent, entrepreneurs, academics, startups, global companies and future investments globally,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

“We seek to attract the best international coders and provide them with the infrastructure needed to develop innovative ideas that serve the world.

Khalifa University, University of Sharjah, Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) and the American University in Dubai are also partnering in the programme.

Eric Xing, president at MBZUAI, said: “As information technology and artificial intelligence are increasingly becoming the engine of the new economy, every country in the world needs to invest in building a new workforce – in this case, computer coders who innovate and produce software products fueling the engine.”

The university, which is located in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, offers postgraduate (MSc and PhD) courses in computer vision, machine learning and natural language processing.

Post-pandemic challenges will fuel IT spending alongside existing strategies to diversify the local economies in the Middle East, where IT will play a key role in reducing reliance on oil revenues.

To this end, the UAE’s National Program for Coders will also see investment in tech startups increase from AED1.5bn (£295m) to AED4bn.

The UAE is not alone. The wider Middle East region is a growing hub for tech startups, with huge investments being made. According to regional data platform MAGNiTT, despite the impact of Covid-19, more than $659m was invested in Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-based startups in the first half of 2020 – representing 95% of total venture investments in the previous year.

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