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Expats in Saudi Arabia will feel a benefit of the nation’s economic shake-up as the country wants to introduce a US-style green card system within the next five years.
Currently, expatriates are only allowed to remain in Saudi under the Kafala sponsorship system (which suffers with restrictions) or by investing through the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. The new green card system will abolish the current set of rules and allow expats to remain in the country indefinitely, permitting them to buy, sell or rent a property without a sponsor. The financial restraints on expats will also be relaxed and those who reside in Saudi for a long time will be eligible for a pension scheme.
Saudi Vision 2030 is the government initiative that is intending to move the nation away from its reliance on cheap oil production, which is currently accounting for 75% of the nation’s gross domestic product. It is hoped that by improving expat’s rights, Saudi Arabia will be a more attractive option for inward investment and will allow for this evolution.
The non-oil revenue boost outlined by Saudi officials is expected to generate an additional $100 billion per year by 2020, with $10 billion of this figure generated from the green card programme.
Oil aside, the new strategy is aiming to tackle the unemployment rate, taking it from 11.6% to 7%. Furthermore, the vision will promote an increase in women in the workforce, taking this from 22% to 30%, which is a controversial move as Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which forbids women to drive.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam, an influential figure behind Vision 2030, was asked if the increased participation of women in the economy would mean they would finally be allowed behind the wheel, he commented, “So far the society is not persuaded – and it has negative influence – but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society.”
A senior systems engineer at Tawuniya, Saleh Ampaso Bucay, who has been working in Saudia Arabia since 1992, described the scheme as a dream come true. “I am just like many other expatriates who have spent more than half of their lives in this country. All my children were born here. So it is really a great honour if this privilege of either permanent residence or a green card is granted to us,” Bucay stated.
The bold and broad visions outlined by Saudi Vision 2030 will produce drastic change. Global experiences, such as that of Singapore, is evidence that large and complex success stories began with similar strategies. Success cannot be discussed until the policy is implemented but it could help Saudi Arabia create a successful economy, and for the nation to be recognised as a global commercial centre.
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