Saudi move has raised hopes among the deserving expatriate communities who have long harboured a desire to settle in the Kingdom Image Credit: Agency

A little over a week ago, King Salman of Saudi Arabia approved the granting of citizenship to expatriates with exceptional skills and talents.

The approval, which covers “a number of distinguished people with rare expertise and specialisations” comes “in light of the royal order to open the door to naturalise [grant citizenship to] legal, medical, scientific, cultural, sports and technical specialists in a way that contributes to promoting the wheel of development and benefits the country in various fields,” the official government news agency reported.

The citizenship decree includes doctors, clerics and academics and is in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 aimed at strengthening the environment to attract and invest in field specialists and distinguished individuals, according to the official release.

As of this writing, some 27 individuals have been granted Saudi citizenship. They include Mustafa Ceric who is a noteworthy Islamic scholar and religious leader and had held the post of Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1999 to 2012, in which he promoted tolerance towards other faiths and integration of Islam into European societies.

There is also Mokhtar Alim who now works as a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba, and whose works have been featured at international exhibitions and historian Dr. Amin Sido, researcher Dr. Mohammed Alboukai, historian Dr. Abd al-Karim Ibrahim al-Samak, and Samaan Al-Ani, a pioneer theatre director among the others.

Saudi Arabia is the second country in the GCC to begin granting citizenship to foreigners. Earlier in the year, the UAE announced: “a scheme that would grant citizenship to investors and other professionals including scientists, doctors, and their families.” The idea is to get the maximum benefit from the enormous potential within the country.

The idea by and large has been openly accepted by Saudis who are more than willing to embrace their new compatriots. Areas in Saudi Arabia on the west and east of the peninsula have been centuries-old melting pots for foreigners who trekked here for religious or commercial activities and eventually settled down, long before Saudi Arabia came into existence.

For foreigners, the new measures have given hope to long-term residents who have been waiting for such a day so as to be accepted as full-fledged citizens. While currently the criteria for selection may be confined to top specialists, they are hopeful that soon it would be relaxed to allow many others wishing to be granted citizenship to be successful.

Abdul Bari who hails from Hadramout in Yemen says: “I have been in this country for over 44 years. My father brought me here from Hadramout when I was only 7 years old, I got married here, and have three children all born and bred on the soils of this great country. For years I had been trying to apply for citizenship as this is the only country I know. I had submitted countless applications in the past. I hope that this move by King Salman would also pave the way for the granting of citizenship to long-term residents on humanitarian grounds, residents who may not be scientists or great doctors but have been lawful and productive residents.”

Amina, a Saudi married to an expatriate believes that citizenship should also be given to the many hundreds of children born to Saudi mothers and foreign fathers. The process is long and tedious. Many of my colleagues complain that it is fruitless with all the demands of paperwork and attestations. Let us grant these children nationality so that they do not feel like outsiders. The feeling of belonging is lacking when you do not have it in official form.”

Hussein, a retired historian says: “Saudi Arabia is a very large country with miles and miles of undeveloped lands. Let us deed a piece of land to each of the long-term residents, say to those who have been here for 30 years or more, and let them develop it for their own fortunes. We can absorb a few more millions of these conscientious hard workers who have done so much for the building of this country. I know for example an Indian doctor who has been here for more than 30 years and delivered hundreds of Saudi babies, and usually for a small fee, and such people are deserving as well in my opinion. From the economic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense as it will generate more transactions domestically rather than seeing remittances flowing out of the country.”

Undoubtedly the recent decree by King Salman has raised hopes among the deserving expatriate communities who have long harboured a desire to settle here. Perhaps their dreams are just around the corner.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena