As Abu Dhabi government employees move to the capital to meet the deadline for a new government decree, the emirate’s schools are struggling to meet the increased demand for places.

Schools in Abu Dhabi are struggling to meet the rise in demand for places following a new government ruling from the Executive Council that all employees of the government, including those in state-owned companies, must live in the capital if they want to retain their full salary.

Under the new rule, first announced in September 2012, all public sector staff currently not residing in Abu Dhabi should have moved to the emirate by the beginning of this month. Failure to do so means they will lose their housing allowance, which makes up a large portion of an employee’s salary.

With 12 months notice of the move, the idea was that almost all those affected by the decree – estimated to be between 10,000 – 20,000  – would have resettled by now.

However, the ruling has caused a number of changes in Abu Dhabi since it was first announced last year, making it hard for some employees to move. Rents have risen dramatically due to the increase in demand for apartments and villas as employees flock to the capital. But the ruling has also affected schools too.

With more families moving into the city, school places – that were already tight – are now stretched to the maximum with several children competing for each place.

It means not all children of families relocating to Abu Dhabi are guaranteed a place and some schools admit they are oversubscribed. With strict regulations from the Abu Dhabi Education Council that schools must not stretch class sizes over 30, schools are being forced to turn candidates down for a place.

However there is hope. According to local media reports, government sources have said that employees facing issues complying with the new regulation can request an exemption with each case considered separately.

With no firm announcement made on this, it is unclear who will qualify for an exemption though many believe not being able to get a school place for a child could be a factor. This could bring relief to parents who have not secured a place for their children yet and those whose children are in the middle of important exam periods, i.e. those studying for secondary school exams over a two-year period – a process that should not be disturbed until the exams are complete.

But like the traditional scramble for school places – seen across the UAE – there may still be places available at schools not necessarily considered to be in the top stream. By comparing all the schools available on the market and considering different curriculums, there could still be options for those parents desperately trying to secure a place.

For those who do not manage to secure a place for their child, the other option is to leave the family in the primary residence in another emirate and lease a cheaper apartment or studio to ensure they retain their full salary. This is a trend property analysts have already noticed happening.