Foreigners in Saudi

Foreigners in Saudi Arabia: New residency permit for high-skilled expats

May 26, 2019

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Last week, the Saudi cabinet approved a new residency system aimed at attracting high-skilled expats. The new law will grant certain non-Saudis residency without needing a local sponsor.
Saudi’s new permanent residency permit fee to exceed $200,000 – report
With this step, Saudi Arabia is joining the UAE who last year issued a similar decree which came into effect this week.
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have been part of the society and labor market since before the country’s unification in the 1920s. They are doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, manual laborers, etc. Foreigners have played a role in every Saudi’s life, and their contribution to the development of Saudi society cannot be forgotten. Not all were beneficial, since over the years many who came for pilgrimage just stayed on as illegal residents, sometimes engaging in criminal activities, but the vast majority of expatriates are law-abiding.
Reducing the number of unemployed Saudis is the key target for the government. The private sector was largely dominated by expatriate workers from Pakistan, India, Philippines and other Arab countries such as Lebanon or Egypt. When the Saudization program was implemented, many foreigners were substituted by Saudis. Two years ago, the government imposed fees that companies had to pay for employing foreigners. As a result of this financial burden, many foreigners left.
The human element is that many foreigners who left, had been living in Saudi Arabia for decades and considered the country their home. In many cases, employers or friends found a solution for the expatriates to stay in Saudi Arabia. Others moved to neighboring countries, Turkey and Europe.
In this context, the new law announced by the government is a positive development. Since 2000, it has been possible for non-Saudis to start a business in Saudi Arabia, and to get a residence permit and the right to acquire property in conjunction with the investment license. However, such for investments were essentially restricted to manufacturing or service ventures, and required a real business purpose. Now the Saudi Arabian government has announced that it is prepared to give high net worth individuals residence permits purely on the basis of their transferring funds into the Kingdom, without this being tied to a business venture. Details are still sparse, and one will have to wait for the legislation to assess how the new proposal differs from the existing legal framework for foreign investment in the Kingdom.

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