Badrya Darwish
Badrya Darwish

It was very interesting to hear and read in the media about the Saudi kingdom’s plan to launch a new system for expatriates. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced yesterday that the kingdom will within five years implement a ‘green card’ system to allow expatriate Arabs and Muslims to live and work in the kingdom long term.

This is historic. The expat problem in the Gulf has been an enigma since the first oil boom and influx from all over the world of foreign workers and professionals. Every country in the Gulf has its own set of rules for how to deal with them. But in the Gulf, expats cannot work without a sponsor (also known in Arabic as a kafeel).

This has actually caused a lot of economic and social problems – both for the countries and for expats. Rules in many cases were changed suddenly. It’s not a constitutional issue and many times the laws governing expatriates fell under the mood of the social affairs or immigration minister at the moment or were subject to political winds. This in many cases led to rules and regulations that were sometimes tough, unfair or unjust towards expats. Actually, many times before I wrote calling on Gulf leaders to grant permanent residency to those who have lived here for long periods and have a clean police record.

Permanent residency could solve many problems in the Gulf countries. If we had adopted this system many years ago, we would not need to constantly bring new foreigners to the region. Instead, permanent residency will give a chance for professionals and their families to stay in the country and work and be loyal and help build our prosperity. They will have no need to send their salaries home. They will be loyal and dedicated to this place, this land and to us.

They are people who know the country very well along with their families and they know our traditions, our culture, our values and our ways. Many of them have already integrated into the society. Economically, it will boost the region, rather than bringing in new expats every two years, with many suffering from human traffickers who fill their pockets with money regardless of the human interests of the workers or the interests of the nation.

Actually, I salute Prince Mohammed bin Salman for this bold and pioneering step in trying to solve the expat problem and creating a just system similar to what they have in the West. The prince has a real vision for the future. I hope he will follow through and see this plan implemented in Saudi Arabia and ultimately across the Gulf.

Thank you Prince Mohammed.

By Badrya Darwish