Saudi Arabia loosens residency rules for investors, skilled foreigners

The kingdom approves permanent residency for the first time, with property perks for eligible applicants

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Foreigners can now obtain permanent residency in Saudi Arabia in an effort by the kingdom to explore non-oil revenue streams, Bloomberg reported.

The cabinet stamped its final approval on a new scheme, dubbed ‘privileged iqama’, granting foreigners the perk of a one-year renewable residency, if not an indefinite stay.

It marks a departure from the existing ‘iqama’ system that allows foreigners to reside and work in the kingdom if they have a ‘kafeel’ or sponsor.

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“If you really want to move forward and innovate, the whole sponsorship system needs to be abolished,” said Nasser Saidi, president of Nasser Saidi & Associates and former chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

The new residency scheme gives successful applicants the right to own property — a move that would benefit wealthy Arabs who have resided in the kingdom for decades “without being able to as much as own the homes they live in,” Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi Capital, told Bloomberg.

However, the residency scheme will be offered to skilled expats — doctors, engineers, and innovators — as well as investors and professionals who can “contribute to the development of Saudi Arabia and lead to a prosperous future,” according to Lina Almaeena, a member of the consultative Shura Council which approved the scheme.