I have had several queries from expatriate friends of different nationalities, seeking clarification about the proposed Saudi green card. Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, earlier announced the government’s plan to introduce a green card system with several benefits.
Most queries were about the details of such a system, including the conditions, requirements and cost involved in obtaining a card. Expatriates also wanted to know when this system was going to be introduced in the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give a definite and clear-cut answer to any of these questions, as the matter is still being studied by the concerned authorities, such the ministries of interior, finance, labor, commerce, economy and planning, as well as the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. After completion of these studies, the topic will be referred to the Shoura Council to be studied by its committees.
This will be followed by deliberations in regular sessions of the Shoura in which all members can take part and articulate their viewpoints and opinions. Upon the Shoura Council’s adoption of a draft bill, it will be referred to the Council of Ministers for approval and implementation.
Since the announcement about the intention to introduce a green card system that would allow expatriates to reside in the Kingdom permanently in a similar manner to green card holders in the United States, the reaction from the Saudi public has been mixed. There have been supporters and opponents of this proposal and their viewpoints have been aired on social media websites.
Since the announcement about the intention to introduce a green card system that would allow expatriates to reside in the Kingdom permanently in a similar manner to green card holders in the United States, the reaction from the Saudi public has been mixedDr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Benefits to the nation
Some have welcomed the idea and have indicated that it would bring about many social, economic and security benefits to the nation in terms of the payment of Zakat and taxes by expatriates that are hitherto collected only from Saudis. Moreover, it would be instrumental in reducing the volume of foreign remittances.
Green card holders would be allowed to engage in any businesses and commercial activities as well as to own property as in the case of Saudi citizens. The only difference would be citizenship, as expatriates would continue to keep their own nationality. Only those expatriates who fulfill the strict terms and conditions under the special citizenship law would be given Saudi citizenship.
The green card would abolish the controversial sponsorship law, which continues to remain an object of criticism by international human rights organizations. This system has also come under criticism by local human rights activists and some writers. The green card system would eliminate the phenomenon of tasattur, the illegal practice by which Saudis permit expatriates to manage businesses in their names for a share in the profits. Tasattur has spread across the country and all attempts to eliminate it have ended in failure.
As for those who oppose the green card idea, they tend to repeat the same arguments without understanding whether there is any basis for such arguments. These arguments include the allegation that “foreigners are eating up and depleting our resources and deprive our children of jobs”. They make such allegations without any substantial evidence or logic.
A materialistic point of view
What bothers me the most is that all those who support granting a green card to expatriates look at the subject simply from a materialistic point of view, claiming that it would pump as much as SR18 billion per year into the state treasury. Of course, there is no doubt that the material aspect is important, but it is not supposed to be everything. The proposed fee for the green card is SR14,000 per annum.
This is, I think, a high amount, especially in the case of those expatriates who have spent a long period of time in the Kingdom and who wish to continue living in the Kingdom owing to religious, emotional and social reasons. Many of these expatriates would not be able to afford such as large amount. This fee can be collected from those expatriates who can afford it, in addition to those who are involved in business and commercial activities.
I previously wrote an article in this newspaper, asking Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, to look into the case of those expatriates who have served the Kingdom for a long period of time – sometimes more than 30 years – but who are no longer able to work. However, these expatriates want to stay in the Kingdom or make frequent visits to the Kingdom owing to religious or sentimental reasons.
My request to the Crown Prince in the article was to take a favorable view of such demands by issuing permanent residency permits for these expatriates to live here or to visit the Kingdom at frequent intervals as a token of recognition of the services rendered by them to the nation.
Some of these expatriates came to the Kingdom while they were in the prime of their youth, but are now elderly and unable to continue their work as they did in the past. However, they still cherish a desire to stay in the Kingdom or at least to make frequent visits between their homeland and the Kingdom. A green card would certainly be a solution for them, but the fee should be one that they can afford.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 26, 2017.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @DrAliAlghamdi.