Hit hard by economic turmoil stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Omani officials are working hard to develop creative solutions that can support the Sultanate’s long-term development goals. One such solution has been a new approach to housing and land development. As part of their new vision for housing development in the sultanate, policymakers have been altering the rules governing landownership for Omanis and foreigners alike.
As the nation strives to diversify its economy, policymakers recognize the value and importance of attracting sustainable foreign investment. As part of this program, officials are working to lower the barriers to entry and investment for foreigners, which includes making buying land and living in the country easier. As part Oman’s new Economic Stimulus Plan, foreigners will be allowed for the first time to own land in the Sultanate. Qais bin Mohammed al Yousuf, Oman’s Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Investment Promotion (MoCIIP), has explicitly linked the nation’s new rules around landownership with schemes intended to incentivize investment and business development, acknowledging that changes to land ownership are part of a targeted effort to stimulate investment flows into the country.
As with numerous other areas of the globe, the pandemic has had a severe negative impact on Oman’s economy, and Oman’s leaders are heavily focused on getting the economic engine humming once more. New land ownership rules, which include the ability for foreign companies to own plots of land exceeding 5,000sqm, now complement other policy changes, including lower income tax rates for SMEs, longer duration residency permits for foreigners, and a general reduction in interest rates. The government has also announced that the MoCIIP has been empowered to sign service-level agreements (SLAs) with investors in order to secure their status and assure legal protection. Officials are confident that these new rules will create an environment conducive to sustained development and investment.
For the first time, non-GCC nationals will be able to purchase residential units in developments not part of an Integrated Tourism Complex. Purchasers must be 23 years of age or older and must have a valid residence permit at the time of purchase. Certain conditions also exist regarding the characteristics of the property, and properties must be two-rooms or larger and must be in a building that is four or more stories and is located in a Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning-designated site. In order to ensure that development progresses in line with national goals, the Sultanate has restricted the total number of residential units that can be sold to foreigners in a given region to 40% and enacted rules restricting the percentage of units that can be sold to purchasers of the same nationality to 20%. By creating a liquid real estate market for foreigners, officials are hoping to create a sustainable, long-term investment climate.
As part of the government’s restructured land ownership scheme, new rules for granting lands to certain Omani nationals have also been unveiled. The government is keen to ensure that its population is able to access and enjoy safe, secure, and high-quality housing. As such, men over the age of 23 who are supporting a wife, children, or a parent can apply for a land grant in certain areas of the country. In instances where a man is supporting a family, the title will be issued in the name of both spouses. If a male applicant is above the age of 40, he is also eligible to apply for a grant. Further, women over the age of 23 are eligible to apply for a grant if they are the a) sole supporter of a family; b) married to a non-Omani and permanently residing in Oman; or c) is divorced, widowed, or deserted and has no children and is over the age of 40.
The government has also announced that priority will be given to families that currently lack a house or land suitable for residential development and that selling granted lands, other than in very specific instances, is forbidden. Omanis who have already received a previous government grant are ineligible for an additional grant as part of this program. Already highly popular, the program has seen approximately 475,000 applications across the nation, with almost 125,000 in the Muscat governorate, according to HE Eng. Hamad bin Ali bin Sulaiman Al Nazwani, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning.
As Oman works to throw off its COVID-19-induced economic doldrums, policymakers are confident that new housing and development schemes will attract new investment and ensure the long-term security and comfort of Omani nationals. By reimagining its land grant and housing development system for foreigners and nationals, Oman is well positioned to come out of this global economic malaise stronger than ever.