Time for Take Off!

By Dunia Abbas

Screen shot 2021-07-13 at 12.32.26 AM.pngImage source: Flickr.

Graduation can mean so many things. It means happiness and sadness, freedom and restriction, utter fear and absolute excitement, all at the same time. This is all due to the many decisions that must be taken as soon as graduation becomes a near event. Even the smallest decisions become big ones as all of us graduating students begin to think of what each decision could possibly translate into later on for us. Relocation is the biggest decision for international students who usually have to compare and contrast where they are now with their home. To help make their decision, they need to decide which important criteria they need to base their decision on to be able to make the best one possible. Personally, I have to make a decision on whether or not I should stay in Canada a few years after graduation or relocate back to the Emirates. I am Palestinian, which means in most countries I am considered a 'stateless' person which is what makes immigration laws and citizenship the most major decisive factors for my relocation. Canada and the UAE are both great countries that I have enjoyed and I honestly would not mind settling in either, but I need to compare and contrast immigration laws as well as employment ones for me to make a decision after graduation.

Canada has been ranked number one by the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) six times in the last decade as the best country in the world in which to live. This year, Canada is at number eight while the UAE is at number thirty two, which means they are both in the top percentile of the HDI. There are 65 Canadian Federal and Provincial programs currently operating for potential immigrants to apply to as well as immigration consultants and other similar resources available for determining which program is the most suitable for each applicant. For example, in 2003, Canada accepted 76% of refugee claims by Sri Lankans while Britain accepted 2% and Germany 4%. That year, Canada accepted 1,749 refugee claims by Sri Lankans while all the other countries together accepted only 1,160.

So there are more than 65 different ways to immigrate to Canada, but how many ways are there to immigrate to the UAE? None! While Canada encourages immigration, it is a completely different story in the Emirates. Only children of UAE fathers automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth which means whether you work, study or do any kind of business anywhere in the UAE, its government has ruled out any chance of expatriates being awarded citizenship, no matter how long they stay in the Emirates. For example, none of my family members are Emirati and they will never be, even though they have resided, worked, and bought property in the UAE for more than thirty years. In the Emirates, you are either an Emirati or an expatriate. For 'stateless' persons and other types of persons who need to eventually acquire citizenship, this poses huge restrictions and translates into many lost benefits that they could have otherwise acquired at another country such as Canada. Canada, for example, provides incentives to stay and acquire citizenship, such as universal healthcare, social services, and the Canada Child Tax Benefit where the government actually gives money to help you raise your kids under 18 years of age.

As for employment opportunities, Canada seems to be quite abundant with these as well, with resources readily available at students' disposable. Career management services are at almost every university in Canada with staff helping students through resume clinics, cover letter workshops, mock interviews, etc... Student associations and good relations with professors also end up expanding the student's network which provides more opportunities to hear about job openings or get recommended for a position. In the Emirates, although such resources are also available to students, they are rarely ever used because most students depend on personal networks or apply to jobs outside the country to get foreign experience. Most graduating students, especially the expatriates, end up working in the private sector since the public sector is becoming an increasingly difficult sector to enter due to what is called 'Emiratisation'. Emiratisation is an initiative by the government of the UAE to employ its citizens in the public and private sectors, which means that companies are required to prefer local Emiratis over expatriates when making hiring decisions. There is even a website for it now: 'http://www.emiratisation.org/. What does this mean to graduating expatriates like me? Priority is automatically given to those born Emirati, whether I am more qualified or not. Arguments over the controversy of such initiatives have been going on a long time in many countries and the UAE's ranks as one of the most controversial. I have only heard of such an initiative taking place in Canada for government positions, and even then, you could be from any national background holding the Canadian passport and your national background will not affect the hiring decision. I believe that such initiatives are fine, especially in countries were citizens are only a small percentage of the total population, but they need to be based on the principle of quality, not quantity; basing them on quantity will only result in unqualified and unsuitable people being hired for the wrong jobs.

Employment and labor law in Canada sets out mandatory minimum conditions of employment, governing areas such as hours of work, overtime pay, minimum wages, holidays, vacations, equal pay for male and female employees, employee benefit plans, pregnancy, parental leave and other leaves of absence, notice of termination of employment, and severance and termination pay. More specifically, all jurisdictions in Canada have administrative agencies who deal with human rights complaints and legislation designed to address discriminatory practices in the workplace on the basis of, for example, race, creed, color, ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, citizenship, ancestry, place of origin, family status, record of offences and disability. In the UAE, the human rights of expatriates or non-citizens have been main issues for the longest time. The UAE's system of employment for non-citizens ties an employee to the employer and prevents him or her from seeking alternative employment without the express approval of the original employer. Also, non-payment of wages, cramped and unsanitary living conditions and poor safety practices are widespread and have been the subject of foreign media attention. Rapid development and the challenges that come with it have been cited as reasons for the stalling in dealing with these issues, but considering that expatriates make up eighty percent of the total population in the UAE, the government has not given enough attention to companies' and employers' non-compliance with labor laws.


I was born and raised in the UAE until I was seventeen and it is where most of my family (a very big one) has been residing for more than thirty years. Canada is where I studied for almost five years, made true friends, and started my career. So while one country means family, the other one means friends, but family has been a missing part of my life for a while now so I know that in the end, my emotional ties to the Emirates will drive me back to it for a little while but I hope to someday return to Canada and enjoy it as a citizen. I can already see the plane, it has become such a regular scene for me, staring at me, it is standing in front me with all of its glory, facing me with its long wings which hold its powerful engines, it demands my attention, it mocks me because it is more powerful than me, because it holds the way to the next scary but exciting chapter of my life. In this coming July, whether it is taking me for just a visit or a permanent move to the Emirates, the plane signifies my decision and will forever be a symbol of many of my decisions.

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