The "Golden Card" programme is open to investors and "exceptional talents" such as doctors, engineers, scientists and artists, said UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai's ruler.
"We want them to be permanent partners in our journey. Residents are an indispensable part of our country," he said in a statement.
A first group of 6,800 investors with investments totalling 100 billion dirhams ($27 billion, 24 billion euros) were being given permanent residency, he said.
It is the first such scheme in the Gulf, where foreigners are generally only given limited duration residence permits under the "kafala" sponsorship system.
Foreigners account for 90 percent of the population of around nine million in the UAE, the Arab world's second-largest economy which has seen rapid development in recent years.