Saudi Arabia Gives Citizenship to ‘Outstanding’ Expats in Shift
Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to an unspecified number of foreigners whose expertise could help the country as it diversifies away from oil, a major shift that follows a similar decision by the neighboring UAE earlier this year.
The program targets people with “outstanding capabilities” and backgrounds in “rare specialties,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported. The kingdom will focus on naturalizing foreigners in fields including Shariah, medicine, science, culture, sports and technology, “in order to strengthen the pace of development” and boost its attractiveness for investment and human capital, the agency said.
Saudi Arabia becomes the second Gulf country to formalize a process aimed at giving expatriates a bigger stake in the economy after the UAE announced its own naturalization program for exceptional foreigners in January.
It also underlines the kingdom’s growing competition with its neighbors for business and talent as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tries to expand non-oil sectors such as tourism and manufacturing.
Immigrants make up a third of the population in Saudi Arabia, but with extremely limited mechanisms for granting permanent residency or nationality, they have little long-term stability.
Even as officials work to attract more highly-educated foreigners, the government has been reserving for Saudis many jobs once occupied by lower-income immigrants from other Arab, Asian and African countries -- part of an effort to tackle citizen unemployment of over 11%.
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