Just grant them the nationality!

Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Tariq A. Al-Maeena
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An item in this paper the other day reflected upon some of the hardships and challenges facing expatriates born and raised in this country, but made to feel that they did not belong. An estimated two million expatriates have been born in this country, many the children of second- and third-generation expatriates who have also been born here. This is the story of one of them.

Wasim B. has been in this country for over 40 years. He came here from Pakistan at the age of three with his parents, and older siblings. Over the years Wasim was educated in Saudi schools at a time when anyone could take advantage of the opportunity for learning, and today he is dependably taking care of the business of an elderly Saudi family here in Jeddah. His honest association with this family since his youth has resulted in him being entrusted with all their financial affairs.

But Wasim has a problem. While his father some 35 years ago managed to apply for and get citizenship for his elder brothers and sisters, Wasim’s case was somehow delayed due to his young age. With the passage of time, his father died, and Wasim’s application for citizenship slowly went out the window.

For a while, it was not much of a bother. But as he got older and wanted to start his own family, his status as an alien complicated getting approval, among a host of other problems. And as citizenship laws became more restrictive, his desire to obtain Saudi nationality and settle here permanently became more fraught with uncertainty.

Once his children were of school age, the issue of government schools was out of the question. And today, upon his son’s graduation from the Pakistani school, Wasim faces a dilemma as to what to do with his offspring. With our universities restricting admission to foreigners, he is understandably concerned, as he does not relish sending his son abroad, even to Pakistan where Wasim’s family ties have eroded over the decades and where his son would be a stranger in the culture he would be thrust into.

Why not absorb this rich talent and wealth within our own land rather than see it lost to foreign lands?

Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Wasim is but one of a multitude of fathers and mothers in similar situations. From the continents of the West to the far corners of Asia, their forefathers at one time moved to this country. It was not the lure of wealth or the prospect of making it big during the oil boom years. Many had been here prior to that era. Instead, most had made the perilous journey then in their quest to live in the proximity of the two holy cities.

They find themselves today facing gut-wrenching situations requiring decisions that often split the family apart. They have lived as Saudis, learned as Saudis, worked as Saudis, and prayed as Saudis, but they are not Saudis. And they are not accepted as Saudis. And the bureaucratic challenges in gaining Saudi citizenship are not encouraging for most of these people.

Many of them today cannot think of another land to call home. Even the lands of their ancestry would seem alien to their locally homegrown family; the culture, the language, the food, and just about everything else! And as their children come of age and require further education or jobs, some will reluctantly attempt to pack up and re-enter their own societies, while others will grudgingly make plans to move westwards to more alien cultures.

I pose this question to the authorities. Would it not be just and right to grant those facing such uncertainties and who wish so, the rights and benefits of full citizenship? It would also boost Vision 2030 with investment being applied domestically by new immigrants, rather than swept away in remittances elsewhere.

Why not absorb this rich talent and wealth within our own land rather than see it lost to foreign lands? To increase the diversity within our society and to enhance it with a whole host of subcultures would serve the nation well. The mindset that we must preserve the heritage of this country through the restricting of bloodlines has got to change.

Within families, inbreeding often spells the beginning of extinction and doom. Within nations, it can only lead to a stifling of growth and enrichment.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.

Tariq A. Al-Maeena is a Saudi writer. Twitter @talmaeena.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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