Foreigners in Dubai hit by downturn

"Dubai is like a celebrity," he says. "When a star goes through trouble everyone wants to hear and exaggerate the things that go wrong. That's us. We are like Britney Spears. … But I would not worry too much."

Nonetheless, there could be an ever bigger exodus come June, when schools let out and before the unbearably scorching summer arrives.

The Jumeirah English Speaking School sent a notice asking whether parents are planning to re-enroll their children next year.

The Dubai British School and the American School of Dubai have been calling parents to ask their plans, says one parent, Anna Charters. "It's like a game of dominoes," she says. "One thing is affecting the next, and everything is about to fall apart."

Paul Dyer, a researcher at the Dubai School of Government, says the government should allow those who are laid off to stay here longer than a month, to contribute to the economy.

"I know the government is looking for ways to adjust," he says. "They have to."

The theme park that Jesse Vargas came to work for, like other amusement parks under construction, has been put on hold. The couple, both 35, worry that they could be asked to leave the country empty handed, possibly even deeper in debt.

"We are living with constant uncertainty here," Denay Vargas says. "It's nerve-racking."

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