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Saudi Arabia to grant citizenship for expats. How does it work, who are eligible?

The move is part of the measures to implement Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud | Official Twitter handle

In a landmark move, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Thursday gave approval for granting citizenship of the kingdom to "a number of distinguished people with rare expertise and specialisations," the government-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The approval comes "in light of the royal order to open the door to naturalise [grant citizenship to] legal, medical, scientific, cultural, sports and technical specialists in a way that contributes to promoting the wheel of development and benefits the country in various fields," SPA reported.

The move is part of the measures to implement Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, which seeks to make the kingdom a major business destination and diversify its economy by cutting the current reliance on oil.

Arab News, the English daily with the largest circulation in Saudi Arabia, reported the new approval covers citizenship for experts “in forensic and medical science, technology, agriculture, nuclear and renewable energy, oil and gas, and artificial intelligence, in addition to specialists involved in arts, sports and culture".

However, the citizenship process will be restricted. "Granting citizenship to a limited number of such personnel will be through nomination based purely on public interest and there won’t be any option to submit applications," Saudi Gazette reported.

Saudi Arabia has had very stringent citizenship laws, with foreigners traditionally not being given citizenship. Existing laws mandate that non-Muslims must convert to Islam before being considered eligible for naturalisation. These applicants must obtain a certificate documenting their religion from a Muslim religious authority. The laws mandate that applicants had to have held permanent residence in Saudi Arabia for at least five years.

Saudi Arabia is the second Gulf nation after the UAE to liberalise citizenship procedures. In January, the UAE offered citizenship to select categories including "investors, doctors, specialists, inventors, scientists, talents, intellectuals, artists and their families".

Like the Saudi system, the UAE also does not allow applications for citizenships; rather, professionals will be nominated by members of the royalty or officials, with final approval from the cabinet.

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