Manama: Saudis have welcomed the decision to give foreign mothers of Saudi children permanent residence status without the need for a sponsor.
The decision was announced by Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja on Monday following the weekly cabinet session and amended a law that for more than 40 years required foreign women married to Saudi men to have sponsors in order to legally live in the kingdom, even if the mixed couple had children.
They will also be given the rights accorded to Saudi nationals in public and university education and in health services.
Under the sponsorship system adopted by several countries in the Gulf, foreigners cannot live in the country or take up a job or switch jobs without the approval of their sponsor.
According to the official Saudi Press Agency, the recommendations to change the status of the foreign mothers of Saudi children had been submitted by the foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal based on “the lack of housing and living guarantees for Saudi children living abroad and their non-Saudi mothers upon returning to the kingdom.”
“The state will pay the residence fees of the non-Saudi mothers,” the information minister said. “These mothers have the right to take up jobs in the private sector and will be considered part of Saudisation process,” he said in reference to the scheme launched by the state to boost the number of Saudis employed by private companies.
For the business community, the new rules meant greater family stability for the Saudi men and their foreign wives as well as for the private sector that could benefit from the skills and competence of the non-Saudi women.
Prominent writer Tariq Al Maeena was overtly jubilant over the decision.
“It is a just move that shows a genuine appreciation of the deep sacrifices that expatriates mothers have made to raise Saudi children,” he said. “It is a true recognition of their efforts, and we do welcome it warmly, particularly that it is in the interests of the mothers and children as well,” Al Maeena, who describes himself as “passionate about justice and women’s rights,” told Gulf News.
He said that it was unfair that the mothers of Saudi citizens not be given the rights they richly deserved.
“These mothers make huge sacrifices, especially when the fathers are not present or in the picture. They simply cannot depend on sponsors to be able to stay in the kingdom with they have created special bonds,” he said. “If a husband divorces his expatriate wife, he no longer sponsors her and of course, none of his relatives will accept to sponsor her. If her son is under the required legal age to sponsor her, she will have to depend on strangers and she is automatically at the short end of the stick. This decision by the cabinet is a sort of justice that these mothers have been longing for. Now, they can live with their children in Saudi Arabia and they take up jobs in the private sector,” he said.
“The private sector can benefit from this segment of the society, especially that the state will pay the residence fees,” Abdul Aziz Al Tiriki, a businessman, said. “This is a great step forward and will empower the wives to have a financial income, particularly that many of them have advanced skills and can work in the private sector,” he said, quoted by local Arabic daily Okaz.
For Umm Mohammad, a Syrian mother of seven Saudi children, the cabinet decision was a historic breakthrough.
“It means a lot to us because women with my status can now work in the private sector and be treated like Saudi citizens when it comes to public education, universities and medical treatment at the government hospitals,” she said.
Khalid Saud Al Salhi, a Saudi national, said that the move would reinforce the status of the foreign women who took Saudi husbands.
“It will strengthen the bonds these women have made with this land,” he said.
Non-Saudi women married with Saudi men have been calling for easing their family lives in the kingdom.
“This latest decision is a positive answer to their requests and we hope that as mothers of Saudi children, they will be granted the Saudi citizenship,” Ali Al Balawi, a Saudi national, said.