News & Insights


Review of the UAE Citizenship Law

May 26, 2020 / Author: Irfan Ali Thanvi


The UAE is an intriguing country to explore the limits and possibilities of citizenship. Citizenship in the UAE is a granted favour from the Authorities, as the value of a UAE passport expounds enormous credibility to the rights of an Emirati Citizen worldwide. However, the local demographics of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) constitute less than 12 per cent of the entire population. In response to queries submitted by residents of the UAE to obtain the citizenship, the UAE has acknowledged the solitude status of its residents. The governing law for regulations of UAE citizenship is Federal Law No.17 of 1972 concerning nationality and passports. Primarily the ‘jus sanguinis’ that the legislation adopted from the French Civil Code.



According to Federal Law no. 17 of 1972, UAE Local populace with full citizenship hold a document called khulasat al-qaid, a certificate issued by the government which proves that they had ancestry in the UAE before 1925.

The subsequent date was chosen as a benchmark, as it marked the end of the post World War I, which included rejoicement of self-autonomy to the erstwhile Trucial states of the Persian Gulf. Citizens enjoy all the benefits associated with a welfare state with low or no taxation, free utility supplies through DEWA, ADWEA, ADDC and FEWA to all the seven emirates and, complementary healthcare and obligatory education, allotment of land and easy instalment loans to build homes.

UAE Local populace, who do not hold a khulasat al-qaid certificate, is considered a different category of citizens. They are nationals, as they hold a passport issued by one of the seven emirates, but they are not of Arab ancestry. Since the promulgation of the constitution demands Arab ethnicity, hence this category includes citizens of non-Arab descent are considered locals without certification.

The children of naturally born UAE citizens have been granted special rights since 2011. Previously, citizenship could not have been passed from mothers to children. This dilemma was resolved through the subsequent amendment in the Laws. Formerly, the right to citizenship in the UAE used to be a paternal family side affair, until a 2011 amendment to the laws brought into the picture the right of Emirati women, who gave birth to children of wedlock from a foreign father, their children are entitled to this privilege. Now children born to either an Emirati father or a mother are bound to possess UAE citizenship, even if the birth has taken place elsewhere.

The fourth category of the UAE natives is the bidoun, or stateless. Bidoun is an Arabic terminology meaning “without”. This category stems from families who lived in the region but never counted in censuses because of their tribal affiliation, their level of literacy, their ethnic origin or their access to state officials. A large population of bidouns were desert nomads in the territory independent trucial states or the ones who migrated to the erstwhile Trucial States before 1971, prior the UAE uniting into a formal state with international borders and citizenship rights. A multitude of migrants, especially those who came from the hinterlands of neighbouring countries like Iran and Pakistan, never had national documentation to begin with their process of residencies. Many of these people came from disputed territories like for instance the city of Gwadar in Balochistan, which became part of Pakistan forcibly in 1960, their residents flocked to the Trucial States, in high numbers, as they did not subscribe to the Pakistan state.



The UAE government often released census data about the number of bidoun; population estimates range from 25,000 to 120,000. Most of them belong to Bedouin and nomad groups who used to move within the borders of the erstwhile Trucial States and their neighbouring countries. They were not issued citizenship documents or passports by the British administration during the 1950s, as they found the process difficult and tedious. Hitherto, once the UAE federation was established and gained independence in 1971, they could not demonstrate their citizenship. In 2008, the Federal Government collectively issued relief for the stateless, by signing a mutual agreement with the State of Comoro Island in East Africa. The stateless Bedouin, who could not meet any criterion as a benchmark, including education, criminal record clearances, honesty, language and bankruptcy, got a golden opportunity to travel with an international travel document. Hitherto, the UAE is actively involved in improving the situation of the bidoun, and Comoros commended in a win-win situation for everyone: The stateless get passports that help them live, work and travel. Arabic language communication is a prerequisite for all UAE citizens, irrespective of their background. It is imperative to realise that accumulation of any sort of a criminal record anywhere in the world, can deny the prospects of UAE citizenship.

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