Mariam Nihal | Saudi Gazette
Expatriates living in the Kingdom rejoiced over the new residency plan announced by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, last week. The proposal, similar to the US Green Card program, states that Saudi Arabia is planning to give permanent residency to foreign workers, particularly Arabs and Muslims, within five years. Many expats who spoke to Saudi Gazette cheered the deputy crown prince and said the move was “heroic” as well as “groundbreaking” as they had never expected it to materialize.
Online reactions on Facebook and Twitter were eager for the plan to be put in action. Those celebrating the move were emotional and appreciative while others admitted expats would be able to contribute more to the economy. The plan could generate $10 billion, with another $10 billion expected to be raised from the fees imposed for exceeding foreign worker quotas.
Expatriates would also be able to avail of the benefits and services being enjoyed by Saudis, including medical and banking facilities.
“It is a huge deal for us. Some of us have been living here for generations and this was truly a cherished dream of our parents and grandparents. To be able to live and die in the country they devoted their entire life to is not a small thing for them. I love and respect the rulers for understanding and showing compassion toward those of us who have devoted our lives and efforts to the nation. We take pride in being a part of the Kingdom and now for the first time we feel they too do so,” said Mohammad Ali, a 48-year-old Filipino technician living in Jeddah.
Many feel the move bridges the gap between the locals and expatriates.
“You know it also wipes away, if not completely, the notion that expats are treated like third world citizens. It’s always been an issue of locals looking down upon us. But now that Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman announced the residency plan, it really makes you feel like they value you too. They want us here. And maybe it’s time to get over the negative feelings and let go off. As I am sure Saudis who live abroad and have dual passports seek this right from countries they live in and are lucky enough to get it. Whereas in the Kingdom, we didn’t even feel like we belonged here. Now with this move, it is truly a matter of acknowledging us and welcoming expats to live with equality. I am really happy,” said Mirza Baig, a 39-year-old Pakistani sales manager living in Riyadh.
For those expatriates living in the Kingdom in special circumstances, like widows, orphans or single women, the Green Card system is one that holds a strong promise and gives them hope.
“This is the best news I have heard. Period. I have always worried about what is being passed on to me by generations. My father and ancestors had their businesses here, which now I am helping run, but you know they never got a chance to stay here permanently. There is always an issue or hindrance when it comes to legal standpoints; you cannot permanently live here. And that was the truth. You need a valid iqama or for my mother, a widow, she needed a mahram (legal male guardian). We really suffered because of such conditions. After I heard the announcement by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, I was so relieved. And thank you Saudi Arabia for being compassionate as an Islamic country, that is helping the community by paying attention to everyone’s needs as we do in our religion,” said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old Indian consultant in Dammam.
As for those who have been born and raised in the Kingdom, the issue of lost identity now looks less troublesome as they are able to prepare a long term plan for themselves.
“I was born here, I am 45 years old and have lived nowhere else. In fact my children too were born here and I plan to raise them here. I choose this for our family, firstly because this is our country, the only place we know as home, and secondly because of its proximity to the holy mosques. As Muslims, this is our home. I don’t have words to express my happiness and gratitude to the rulers of this country who are planning this for us,” Abdul Rahman, an Indian expatriate living in Jeddah, told Saudi Gazette.
Since the proposal is part of reforms that will help the Saudi economy to move away from oil based revenue, the Green Card system can benefit the economy by pumping more than $10 billion a year, hopefully with a multiplier effect.
The new system will also help cut down foreign remittances by 30 percent, according to experts.
“From a business standpoint, this is good news. I am ready to pay taxes. I will invest more here. I will buy property, a house of my own, now that I can. Taxes are fair; people need to give back to the economy so I am more than happy to contribute. This helps create jobs for locals as well. Develop skills and help generate employment. The possibilities are endless. And also, finally we can call this our home,” said Ayub Khan, a Pakistani retailer in Jeddah.