The high-paying contract roles with (most of) the perks of a permanent job

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In theory, taking a punt on a new job in a distant country is risky enough without the offer being a contract position. But what if it was a contract job in name only, and actually offered all the perks and security of a permanent position?

If, as an expat financial services professional, you have aspirations to move to the Gulf, this might be the route to take. Regional banks are quietly employing legions of contractors to carry out specialist technology projects, or occupy more technical positions like risk management and compliance, in order to circumvent laws that require firms to hire more and more local candidates.

However, these roles also have the all the benefits of a permanent role, and are generally paying the same rates as more developed financial centres, suggest contractors who recently moved to Dubai.

“Without the income tax it adds up to 20-30% more net from my own personal experience,” says one project manager at a large bank in Abu Dhabi. “Being a contractor also means you are just like a perm except you don't get a bonus, so that means I get 25 days paid holiday, medical/dental cover and I had my one way flight and one month stay in a hotel paid for to get settled here.”

For project management roles, it’s around $550 a day at rates similar to the U.S and UK and, with 25 days paid holiday, this works out at around $200k a year.

Emiratisation in the UAE affects regional and international banks alike – the aim is to employ between 30-40% Emiratis in the private sector, something that is proving difficult for a few reasons. Firstly, they make up a tiny proportion of the total population – 10-11% of the 9.2m residents of the UAE. Then there’s the fact that Emiratis have traditionally favoured high-paying roles in the public sector where hours are lighter than the private sector. Banking has been relatively successful in attracting Emiratis, but they gravitate towards retail banking roles or are elevated into senior executive positions.

Banks like the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), which laid off 100 employees in 2013, First Gulf Bank and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) have been employing legions of contractors as a way to ensure that work is completed, without diluting the ever-important Emiratisation quota, according to expats working at the banks.

“About 80% of IT here is contract here and many people have been on contract renewals for 5-10 years plus,” says another contractor at a large regional bank.

Much of this recruitment goes on under the radar, and usually sourced directly by the bank – the project manager told us he got an interview by dropping his CV at the reception of the bank’s headquarters.

James Collin, senior consultant in the financial services practice of recruiters Morgan McKinley, says: “The formal contract market here isn’t as developed as places like London, but specialist skills are drafted in on a temporary basis for technology or change management projects in large regional banks.”

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