Saudi women stand next to the Saudi pavilion (Vision 2030) at an exhibition in Dubai, October 2018. (Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

Riyadh Offers Citizenship to Non-Saudi Talents

Under Vision 2030 plan, naturalization to be available to scientists, senior specialists

King Salman bin Abdulaziz ordered the door opened for distinguished and creative people from all over the world to apply for Saudi nationality, in an effort to persuade them to live in the kingdom, as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to reduce dependence on oil, diversify the economy and develop public service sectors.

The monarch issued a royal order to that effect two months ago but it was only announced by the Saudi online newspaper Sabq on Thursday. Those eligible to apply for citizenship include medical, scientific and technical experts as well as cultural and sports figures. Also eligible under the royal order are members of displaced tribes in Saudi Arabia, sons of Saudi women and foreign fathers, and children born in Saudi Arabia to foreigners.

Suliman al-Ogaily, a member of the board of directors of the Saudi Society for Political Science, said the decision marked a change in central social, economic and political principles in the kingdom.

“This new royal decision differs, in form and substance, from all the previous decisions aimed at restructuring the economy and redefining social concepts. The royal order reinforces the idea that Saudi society is open-minded, embracing coexistence and diversity, and welcoming talent and expertise, which is an idea that the kingdom has been trying to establish for a while,” Ogaily said.

He added that Saudi Arabia had been inspired by the United States, by how the American genius was based on an innovative, ambitious and pluralistic society, something “that Washington is nowadays letting go of. Well, Saudi Arabia’s new vision aims for such a humanitarian society.”

Ogaily added that the naturalization of non-Saudis was nothing new; during its foundation in the 1930s, the kingdom granted citizenship to many migrant Muslims and displaced tribes in the border areas. “Back then, the idea wasn’t economic or developmental but rather humanitarian and a case of extending solidarity,” he said.

The royal order specified the following areas of expertise as sought under the decision: “forensic science, medical science, pharmacy, mathematics, computer, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, industry, oil and gas and software engineering, as well as robots and high-performance computers, nanotechnology, environment, geology, space science and aviation.”

The new policy is also aimed at increasing cultural exchange and openness in the kingdom, as well as attracting distinguished scholars, intellectuals and other creative figures, in line with Vision 2030.

In a related development, during a September 27 ceremony in Riyadh organized by the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage to commemorate World Tourism Day, Saudi Arabia announced an e-visa service for tourists from 49 countries, in a move aimed at raising cultural exchange and openness in the kingdom, as well as providing job opportunities for young people in tourism and supporting sectors. The service began the next day.

Saudi Vision 2030, a plan led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also entails better integrating into the workforce another major underused resource. For the past two years, Vision 2030 has called for Saudi women to work across a full spectrum of industries, whereas in the past they were limited to such sectors as education.

Khaled Bin Ali Batafi, a professor of social studies at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, told The Media Line the royal decision came to extend and make consistent something that had been going on for decades. The kingdom in the past granted citizenship to many scientists and businesspeople, including public figures such as [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafiq al-Hariri and the influential bin Laden family, whose founder, Awad bin Laden, immigrated to what became Saudi Arabia from Yemen before World War II.

Batafi explained that previously, such persons were granted citizenship by royal decree, without a clear filtering and classification mechanism. “The royal order came to organize the whole process, not only inside Saudi Arabia but around the whole world. The Saudi kingdom is currently working through its official departments to recommend a list of people outside the kingdom who deserve Saudi citizenship.”

Moreover, he said that in the past, such candidates had to be Muslim, speak Arabic and be familiar with Saudi history. The requirements under the new royal order had not yet been published, but would be similar, he said.

“Saudi Arabia is preparing for huge projects and investments that need talented experts and scientists, and in addition is opening up for international universities to establish branches in the kingdom,” Batafi added.

Saudi society was ready for such changes, he said. Saudi Arabia as a country was unified in 1932, merging different regions of the Arabian Peninsula, whereas prior to that, the Saudi nationality didn’t exist. “After unification, many of these nationalities joined Saudi Arabia and became citizens; they contributed enormously in building the kingdom and developing it.”

Bassam Manaser, a Jordanian political analyst and former lawmaker, told The Media Line that the royal decision was a great step to attract expertise in all fields, as in the past Saudi citizenship was given only for political and personal reasons.

“It [the royal order] constitutes a revolution in development, the economy and many technical fields. It’s an important step in bringing diversity and variety, which are important to any society,” Manaser said.

However, he warned that the conservative Saudi society might not accept the idea, and said that creating awareness about the need for the change and highlighting its great importance and positive effect in both the short and the long term could prevent its rejection. “The talented need to be accepted in Saudi society when they move to the kingdom; that’s very important,” Manaser said.

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