Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship to ‘innovative’ people

Move comes as kingdom aims to diversify its economy

Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued the decree on Thursday.  AFP
Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued the decree on Thursday.  AFP

Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to foreigners in fields such as medicine and technology on Thursday, in a bid to diversify the kingdom's economy.

The changes are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and social reform plans to steer the economy away from its reliance on oil.

Citizenship is difficult to obtain in the Gulf as it is not traditionally offered to foreigners and expatriates living in the region.

The kingdom aims to attract "scientists, intellectuals and innovators from around the world, to enable the kingdom to become a diverse hub that the Arab world would be proud of", Saudi Project, a government platform, said on Twitter.

Experts in forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, oil and gas and artificial intelligence will be considered.

People involved in arts, sports and culture are also included to "contribute and support the enhancement of Saudi competencies and knowledge that will benefit the general public".

Saudi nationals typically receive stipends and economic benefits as their share of the country’s wealth.

The current Saudi citizenship law allows the naturalisation of foreign citizens who have held permanent residency in the kingdom for at least five years.

But the requirement of a Saudi sponsor has restricted foreigners living in the country from gaining permanent residency.

The royal decree stated that "worldwide candidates who applied for the citizenship and meet the criteria will be granted citizenship".

Yemeni expatriates who are living in the kingdom will also be granted Saudi nationality.

Leila Al Hilali, a family therapist in Jeddah, said King Salman's decree was a positive move that would empower the kingdom.

"This is a very important step that is much needed in the kingdom to diversify its economy and culture," Ms Al Hilali told The National.

King Salman presents "the Saudi public with pleasant surprises that will have positive impacts on our country', she said.

"This is a bold and beautiful step that the King has taken and it will take us further in developing the 2030 vision.

"The country has taken quick and decisive measures that will take our country to great lengths."

The order also includes members of displaced tribes in the kingdom and residents who are descended from Saudi parents who did not obtain passports when the idea of citizenship was introduced in the last century.

It will also help to resolve the status of children born to mothers who are Saudi nationals but fathers who are not.

The economic and social benefits Saudi Arabia will reap from this initiative will be tremendous in terms of collaboration, openness, competitiveness and entrepreneurship, said Haider Hussain, Partner at immigration consultancy Fragomen UAE.

"These benefits will directly contribute to the advancement of the kingdom’s private and public sector, and will stimulate a stronger sense of community and tolerance between nationals and foreigners," Mr Hussain told The National.

The move is a "strong testament to the kingdom’s commitment to attracting the best talent from around the world", he said.

"Through this forward-thinking move, Saudi is illustrating to the world that the kingdom is open to new ideas and is ready to drive the economy further towards its ambitious goals."

By making a decisive move to offer citizenship for foreign health professionals in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is seeking a competitive advantage over other Gulf countries, said Samuel Ramani, a doctoral researcher in international relations at the University of Oxford.

"This is a considerable boost to the Vision 2030 plan. One of the challenges in attracting outside talent to the Gulf is the inability to give them citizenship," Mr Ramani told The National.

"It will bolster investment and increase the likelihood of corporations participating in Saudi investment forums."

Last month, the kingdom issued its first batch of "premium" residence visas for investors, doctors, engineers or financiers who wish to live in the kingdom.

The programme offers foreign nationals and their families long-term visas and privileges that were previously not available to non-Saudis.

The kingdom also announced the launch of its new tourist visas in September that will grant people more than one entry to the country.

It is expected the announcement will create one million new jobs for the country by 2030.

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Updated: December 6, 2019 02:41 AM

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