Illustration by Rosy Tahan

Barriers to UAE Employment Harden for Non-citizen Graduates

Many NYUAD graduates with passports from outside the UAE are reconsidering working in the UAE, while those who try to stay are finding it increasingly difficult to secure a job.

Mar 3, 2018

According to NYU Abu Dhabi’s most recent graduation hiring reports, NYUAD graduates are less and less likely to be employed in the UAE.
From a height with the Class of 2014 where 49 percent of grads stayed in the UAE, with the recent numbers for the Class of 2017, graduate employment in the UAE has fallen to 27 percent.
NYUAD Class of 2017 Graduation Report
“After applying to hundreds of companies [in the UAE] and receiving tons of rejections and a few offers, I, ironically, ended up with a company I didn't fill out an application for,” related Victoria Blinova, Class of 2017 in an interview with The Gazelle.
The numbers bear out her struggles. Looking at the wider economic and legislative job market determinants for foreigners in the UAE, and the GCC, prospects are not getting better.
In terms of the economic climate in the UAE, the drop in oil prices at the end of 2014 by nearly 200 AED per barrel has had lingering negative economic effects.
With petroleum products constituting around 30% of the UAE’s economy, economic growth in the UAE overall slowed to 1.3 percent as of 2017, down from the roughly 6 percent annual GDP growth rates seen in 2013 (3% annual GDP growth is often seen as healthy in the United States).
Major government entities like the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the world’s second-largest sovereign wealth fund, which is financed primarily by oil revenues, have had to cut back on spending in the non-oil economy and even laid off staff. These cutbacks by ADIA have also been amid several new taxes in the UAE to make up for missing government revenues, potentially dampening private sector growth.
Graph by Tom Klein, data from the IMF and NYUAD Annual Graduation Reports
A generally sluggish economy with increased taxation has disincentivized job creation in the UAE.
Legislative intervention in recent years has also increasingly inhibited NYUAD graduates from working in the UAE and is perhaps now the most obvious concern for foreigners seeking to work in the UAE.
With regards to diploma attestation, many students are still seeking clarifications as to how to specifically attest their high school diplomas. In addition to The Gazelle’s recent guide, the NYUAD Student Government has been working with the Office of Student Life to help incoming students.
"Student Government has been speaking with the Office of First Year Experience to find a way to communicate the needs of high school degree attestation to students before they come to NYUAD. We imagine it will be much easier to acquire the necessary documents from high school while still in high school and hope that an earlier provision of this information can help students plan accordingly," Student Government President Kelly Murphy told The Gazelle.
At the start of 2018, however, the UAE introduced a new requirement for all first-time UAE work visa holders seeking employment to have a certificate of good behavior.
Most NYUAD students are international, and for multi-country international students, police reports of good standing raise the same central questions as attesting a diploma: from where and from whom?
“I still don’t know what it exactly means,” said Carlos Escobar, Class of 2018, discussing getting a certificate of good behavior.
Indeed, just how palpably difficult the most recent police background check will be for NYUAD students remains to be seen, but it is likely to hit hard.
According to the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the new law, for example, means that new US American workers in the UAE will be required to "[Aquire] a certificate...from every country in which the applicant has resided during the previous five years." This is in addition to undergoing an "FBI Identity History Summary Check," among several other requirements.
Based on regional trends, legislative barriers for expatriates entering the UAE job market show no signs of abating.
Courtesy of The National: Young unemployed Omanis protest in front of the ministry of manpower on Jan. 22, 2018. Photo by Saleh Al Shaibany.
In Saudi Arabia, a special tax has been instituted on companies employing expats along with expats themselves. New restrictions have also been placed on certain sectors of the economy, mostly in sales and retail, restricting jobs to Saudi nationals.
In Oman, Muscat saw its first protests since the 2011 Arab Spring in Feb., led by Omani nationals demanding jobs. Multiple arrests were reported as Omani nationals challenged the Ministry of Manpower to lower the unemployment rate and expand job opportunities for Omanis, unsatisfied by recent announcements by the government that many public sector jobs would be created to fill the unemployment gap. Expatriates were banned from working in 87 occupations following the protests.
As the UAE and other Gulf economies continue nationalization programs and economic doldrums generally decrease opportunities, the challenges for NYUAD graduates to stay and work in the UAE only seem to be rising.
For NYUAD alumni from the developing world where starting salaries like 182,860 AED a year are not an opinion at home, the increased pressure for grads to leave the UAE may also mean lower starting salaries moving forward.
Tom Klein is Editor-in-Chief. Email him at
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