This week, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took center stage as he announced sweeping economic reforms and a plan to issue permanent residency "green cards" for expatriates as part of the kingdom's "Vision 2030."
It will take up to five years for the new residency plan to be implemented and according to Prince Mohammed, the green cards will be made available to Arabs and Muslims. The kingdom's Shura Council is planning to discuss the scheme in-depth very soon, according to Arab News .
While Saudi Arabia is often characterized as more conservative and less progressive than other Gulf countries, allowing expats to obtain permanent residency will be a step that other regional nations have not yet seriously put on the table. While the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have populations predominantly composed of expats, these residents rely on maintaining work permits that must be renewed on a regular basis.
In fact, 48 percent of the GCC's 50 million residents are expatriates . Saudi Arabia actually has the lowest percentage of expats comprising its population at 32 percent compared to the UAE, which has the highest percentage at 88 percent.
The constant possibility of losing one's job, and not finding another, often deters expats from investing in the countries where they may have lived for decades. They choose instead to send the money to their native countries.
"The green card will attract foreign investment to the Kingdom. Many expatriates will take advantage of the new program. At the same time, the Kingdom will benefit from the fees paid by expats to have a green card," Shura Council member Awad Al-Assiri told Arab News.
Another council member pointed out that while Prince Mohammed announced the highlights earlier this week, the details still need to be hammered out.
"His announcement only focused on the headlines of the new vision. But we are still waiting to learn about the government’s procedures."
In addition the green card plan, Prince Mohammed announced ambitious economic changes that included the first-ever public offering of a 5 percent stake in Saudi Aramco, pushing for women to have a bigger economic role in society and diversifying the kingdom's economy.
Arab leaders, businessmen and influencers took to social media to express their sentiments toward Prince Mohammed's ambitious Vision 2030.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, posted his support of the new plan.
"I followed with interest, just like others did, the launch of #saudivision2030 today... a vision that carries ambition and hope to the region... and a youthful leadership that will surprise the world with its accomplishments"
"Our optimism and happiness with #saudivision2030 rises from our happiness regarding a new future for our region and optimism about renewal of civilization in our arabic nation for an optimal utilization of its energy, power and youth"
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed also shared his enthusiasm for "Vision 2030."
"Mohammed bin Zayed: The progressive #saudivision2030 is an ambitious program from a determined king and a man known for his historic decisions."
And of course, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Nayef Tweeted his solidarity with the his nation's new vision.
"I congratulate the country for the launch of #saudivision2030 and I support my brother and my right hand regarding this ambitious vision... May god save our king and our country"
Sultan Al-Qassemi, an influential Emirati columnist and art enthusiast, seemed to support the measure, pointing out that he has advocated for permanent residency to be granted to expats in the UAE.
While it remains to be seen how and if the proposal will be implemented, the fact that such a senior royal has announced it suggests that the discussions of permanent residency and potentially naturalization for long-time expats will begin to be taken seriously in the GCC.