In recent years the United Arab Emirates has introduced longer-term visas, and even pathways to citizenship, typically targeting highly skilled individuals or high-net-worth individuals. These changes are likely to have material and symbolic consequences for the Emirati nation, which is racialized as Arab. Drawing from Dahinden’s ‘migrant-citizen nexus’ concept and interviews with young Emirati citizens and non-citizens from Dubai, this paper explores the relationship between class, migration, race, and legal status, and the ways in which their interactions complicate the citizen/migrant binary in the context of the UAE. By attending to racialized understandings and vocabularies of difference, this paper provides insights into the ways in which young people think about nation-ness, who should have the right to citizenship, who is deserving and under what conditions. Overall objective of the paper is to reflect on the contingent relationship between race and nation- particularly as the racial contract in the UAE is being reconfigured towards a neoliberal political economy of belonging.