Saudi Arabia's "Green Card" residency has finally gone into effect after months of being in the works.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia's Premium Residency Center (SAPRC) said it granted 73 people "Premium Residencies" after they met the scheme's criteria. SAPRC explained that the first batch of grantees includes applicants living in the kingdom alongside a few who had applied from abroad. The individuals hail from 19 countries and work in various fields including investing, medicine, engineering, and finance.
The announcement comes months after the country opened the door for special residency applications via an online portal that launched in June.
SAPRC said it received thousands of applications through the portal and handpicked the ones approved.
Applicants who were granted the visas complied with SAPRC's eligibility rules which include being at least 21 years old, proving financial solvency, and having clean criminal and health records.
What perks do they get to enjoy under the scheme? Well, the list is pretty expansive and includes granting expats and their families long-term visas and privileges that were previously deemed off-limits for non-Saudi nationals.
Premium residents are also free to exit and enter the kingdom without a sponsor's approval. They're allowed to use lanes designated to Saudis at the kingdom's exit and entry points and can apply for visas for relatives.
Another perk is ownership of real estate for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes (only allowed in areas outside Mecca, Medina, and border areas).
Working at private establishments without the need for a sponsor is one of the most important benefits of the scheme. Expats are allowed to change jobs without the need to leave the country and return under the name of a new sponsor.
A look at how the premium residency scheme came to be
The scheme was first announced by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. At the time, the royal said the country plans to issue permanent residency "Green Cards" for expatriates as part of the kingdom's Vision 2030.
Earlier this year, the residency scheme was officially approved by the Saudi cabinet after it was green-lighted by the kingdom's Shura Council.
The scheme comes as part of the kingdom's aim to diversify its economy and is expected to generate major revenues.
One way through which the kingdom immediately profits of the scheme is the fees related to the granting of premium residencies. For a permanent residency visa, applicants must pay 800,000 Saudi riyals ($213,000) while a one-year renewable residency costs 100,000 Saudi riyals ($26,667).
Another major revenue point stems from the investments grantees can make in the kingdom.
The possibility of losing one's job - and thus, sponsor - often deters expats from investing in the respective country of residence, even if they've been living there for decades, with many preferring to invest in their native countries.
With this initiative, the kingdom is now offering expats more stability in return for investments.