Saudi’s Welcome Initiative

Saudi Arabia’s proposal to grant permanent resident status to foreign workers who have been living in Gulf countries for 25 years or more is highly welcome. Abdullah Sadiq Dahlan, the Kingdom’s representative to the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation, suggested that the Kingdom should reform the citizenship system to open the way for long-term legal residents to acquire naturalisation.

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Published: Wed 15 Jul 2009, 9:38 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:32 AM

This proposal comes close on the heels of a similar discourse in other Gulf States, notably the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which have been articulating policies to provide a level-playing field to foreign talent in their countries.

It’s, perhaps, bounty time for expatriates living and working in the Middle East. The respective governments seem to have opened their hearts to embrace expatriates in their national mainstream by amending local laws. The reason behind such a move is their acknowledgement of the fact that expatriates are indispensable to the workforce of the region and, hence, economy.

Many countries of the Middle East and the Arab world have been short on population, especially when it comes to professionals, labourers and technicians, and keeping the wheel of economic progress rolling becomes a challenge. Thus, it comes as welcome news for long-term residents from Asia, Africa and Central Asia that they may one day become naturalised in their chosen second homes. This new thinking marks a departure to an earlier straight-jacket policy adopted by many of the Middle Eastern countries, whereby no rights or privileges were granted to guest workers. The new approach also indicates a renaissance in the making as cultural rigidity and xenophobic feelings are being replaced with pluralism and coexistence.

In a broader context, one can say that the visionary policies of the leadership had contributed towards such a change of statecraft. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz stands out as a harbinger of change. Which is why the monarch had been working relentlessly to empower the minorities and women, and give a new face to the country that is progressive and toler-ant in essence.

Similarly, the UAE’s proposal to test the expatriates in cultural awareness for residency visa and Bahrain’s largesse to give foreign employees the same rights as nationals are signs of a new beginning.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council is opening up: inter-regional travel ease, flexibility to professionals to transfer their visas and working on a new strategy to elevate guest workers’ rights. One hopes, such steps will help curb the sense of otherness and contribute in painting a canvas that is pan-religious and culturally heterogeneous, yet one in every other way.

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