UAE expat packages face fundamental shift thanks to cutbacks and changing demographics

But country celebrates record-breaking level of ‘good jobs’ in international survey

The size and nature of expat packages available in the UAE is changing rapidly, according to a flurry of new reports, as businesses reach both to new economic realities and structural shifts in the type of worker relocating to the Middle East.

Recruiters and HR professionals report that over the past 12 months, businesses’ willingness to pay private school fees, relocation packages and business class flights has reduced significantly. They point to a tightening economy as the key driver of the trend, and said it had combined with the introduction of VAT to prompt many expats to think again either about relocating to the UAE in the first place or continuing to stay in their current roles.

“The good old days of the eye-watering packages are long gone,” Gareth El Mettouri, associate director of Robert Half Middle East, told The National. “We’re seeing some of these fringe benefits being removed, so we’re not seeing clients pay for schooling any more, and if they are it’s normally capped.”

Analysis by Edarabia has found that schools in the Emirates have reduced their fees by up to 15 per cent this year in what is perceived as a reaction to stretched expat budgets. But Gemma Frankland of Guardian Wealth Management said many schools had kept their fees at a premium and they could rise further in the short term.

“Education fees are a huge factor and, despite recent reports, education fees in the UAE are actually increasing rather than decreasing,” she told AMEinfo.com. “In Q1 of 2018, we have noticed an increase in clients voicing concerns over the rising costs of their outgoings. This is particularly troubling for expatriates who have come to the UAE to take advantage of higher wages and save long-term.”

In reality, however, the picture may be more nuanced. As People Management reported in late 2017, the UAE remains highly attractive to expats and there is evidence it is becoming even more enticing to the most sought after skilled professionals. Official figures suggest the overall number of foreign workers continues to increase, and recruiters report little trouble filling professional vacancies – even if the candidate pool in some sectors is under pressure from constraints on reward packages.

And Korn Ferry Hay Group was among the recruiters to report that the real change had come in the type of professional being attracted, with expats likely to be younger and less interested in school fees, as well as willing to accept lower wages in return for the opportunity to progress quickly.

A clue to the country’s continuing attractiveness comes in the form of a new Global Great Jobs report from Gallup, which found that 69 per cent of the UAE’s adult population reported they were in a ‘good job’ – a higher proportion than any other country in the world and easily topping the rest of the GCC.

A total of 12 per cent said they were in a ‘great’ job which fully engaged them – a rise of 3 per cent in a year and also among the highest levels in the world.

“The UAE has an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve by further investing in workplace initiatives that put the latest developments in the world of work at the core of their strategy,” said Jon Clifton, global managing partner at Gallup.

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