Saudi Arabia announced it will start granting citizenship to foreigners working in fields such as medicine and technology.

This came as part of a royal decree signaling a larger plan set to naturalize innovators, scientists, and intellectuals from all around the world. The scheme aims to contribute to the expansion of the country as a diverse hub, a government entity titled Saudi Project wrote on Twitter. 

Citizenship is notoriously difficult to obtain in the kingdom and in several other Gulf countries where it's extremely rare for foreigners to be naturalized. The only naturalization case that's been taking place in the past few decades is that of male nationals who pass on citizenship to their foreign wives. (Khaleeji women still cannot pass on nationality to their husbands or kids.)

However, it looks like Saudi Arabia is shifting the existing paradigm with its latest move. Here's everything you need to know about it: 

How is this a game changing move?

This decision is considered historic given the fact that Saudi Arabia has rarely granted citizenship to foreigners since its inception as a state. 

Before 1970, anyone born in the country would automatically be granted citizenship but laws have changed since. Today, children born to expat parents in the country are not naturalized at birth. 

However, the country's current citizenship law does allow the naturalization of foreign citizens who have held permanent residencies in the kingdom for at least five years. 

But critics say it's practically unattainable for expats to get permanent residencies due the kafala system, which continues to be applied in the kingdom. Under it, expats are only able to live in the Gulf nation under renewable visas sponsored by Saudi nationals.

Why was this plan put forth this year?

Opening naturalizations comes at a time when the kingdom is undergoing huge reforms as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030. 

The ever-transforming blueprint mainly aims to modernize the kingdom and diversify its economy, steering it away from its dependence on oil sale revenues. 

Experts believe this new initiative will boost the scheme's goals and bring in huge benefits to the kingdom. This is especially true when it comes to inviting and encouraging foreign investment. 

Who's eligible for Saudi naturalization?

The royal decree focused on this new naturalization process while stating that worldwide candidates who apply and "meet the criteria will be granted citizenship."

The order focuses on professionals working in specific fields but also mentions some expats and stateless tribes based in the country. The decree's list includes: 

  • Experts in forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy 
  • Experts in oil/gas and artificial intelligence 
  • Individuals involved in arts, sports, and culture 
  • Yemeni expatriates based in the kingdom 
  • Members of displaced tribes in the kingdom 
  • Residents who were born to Saudi person before the idea of citizenship was applied in the kingdom and who didn't obtain citizenship documents later on

The decision is also set to help end the struggles of children born to Saudi mothers and non-national fathers who cannot obtain citizenship directly through their mothers as per the country's laws. 

What do Saudis think of the news?

Let's just say the news left people with polarized views. While there were many who felt this was a step in the right direction for the country, others expressed their frustration over it. 

The people who are for the decision include Saudis and foreigners who think those born in the country and who know no other nation as home deserve to be naturalized. 

However, there are thousands who disagreed with that on social media, stating that they're completely opposed to the idea due to several factors. Some spoke of how this decision would put pressure on the country's resources because Saudi nationals receive stipends and economic benefits from the government. 

Others bashed the order saying it shouldn't have been passed before Saudi women are granted their right to pass on citizenship to their children.

"What about Saudi women?! When will she be granted her right to pass on her nationality to the children?!! Or are you going to prioritize people who have no connection to our society over those who are related to nationals by bloods?" one online user wrote.

There were a few who also brought up the unemployment issue among young Saudis, saying that this new rule is an admission that there are jobs in the country.

"Announcing that Saudi Arabia wants to naturalize innovators to benefit from their talents is like an admission that there are jobs in the country. The question is why don't you prioritize nationals and invest in their talents instead? There are millions of unemployed people sitting in their homes, why don't you look at them? Or is it that you don't trust this country's nationals?" a Twitter user wrote.

Amid the backlash, some argued that these naturalizations won't just be handed out to people; others came to unconfirmed conclusions, saying there will be an annual limit on the number of citizenships granted to foreigners to ensure the process doesn't affect people's stipends in any way.