Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Emad is an Egyptian engineer. Ahmed is a Syrian accountant. Both are very close friends and their families are like one big family. Both the friends have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past 35 years. Their children grew up together. All their childhood memories were formed in Saudi Arabia and all their friends are in this country not in their respective home countries.
Interestingly, Emad and Ahmed know the Eastern Province like the back of their hands. They could easily become tourist guides who are aware about the area like natives. These two guys can easily get confused in the streets of Cairo or Damascus. In other words, Saudi Arabia is their home away from home. Unfortunately, the sword of Damocles is always hanging on the fate of these men. What would they do at the termination of their work contracts?
This is the dilemma of not only Emad and Ahmed but it a problem most, if not all, expatriates are facing in the Kingdom despite having lived here for decades. Expatriates had been living and working in Saudi Arabia for many decades. Their numbers had jumped to unprecedented level after the discovery of oil in 1938 and until this day it continues to swell.
The number of expatriates in the past was small and they were confined to a few areas in the Kingdom. Some were in the western parts of the Kingdom close to the holy places and some were in the eastern parts close to the oil fields. In other words, expatriates have greatly contributed to the development of Saudi Arabia.
During the 1970s Saudi Arabia witnessed world’s biggest economic boom and the country was on track to see the biggest transformation in the world in a short period. At that time, Saudi Arabia needed millions of skilled workers from around the world and these expatriates became part of the Saudi society and as time passed Saudi Arabia became their home. Some of the expatriates had been in the Kingdom for more than 30 years. They worked and lived in the Kingdom but most important thing is that their children were born in Saudi Arabia and later on most of them attended private schools with a few attending public schools.
The children, who were born and raised in Saudi Arabia, don’t know anything about any other country. Many of these families with children would travel less and often to their home countries because of travel expenses or simply the head of the family was needed by his or her employer. At the end of the day not only the children, but even their parents made friends in the Kingdom.
In short many of the young expatriates go to their native countries but they barely know their relatives and have no friends. They are all in Saudi Arabia. In the past few years we have seen the lives of many families shattered due to the termination of work permits or contracts of the guardians of expatriate families and they were forced to leave the Kingdom.
This issue had been under discussion since a long time but it remained without any solution. We should understand that they are part of this country and many of them actively took part in the development of Saudi Arabia.
Just a few days ago, a ray of hope emerged for these expatriates, who have immense love and loyalty for Saudi Arabia. Yes, I am referring to the recently announced Saudi Vision 2030. Part of the vision is the introduction of a system in the form of a green card for long-serving expatriates. The expatriate community is very excited about it. And I thing the sooner is the better for the introduction of such a system because it will be beneficial for both the Kingdom and the expatriates.
Financially well-off expatriates will then be able to own a home in Saudi Arabia instead of living on rented properties and instead of sending all their money back home, they will also invest in the Kingdom.
Many expatriates are willing to invest in Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange and in other areas. Expatriates have faith in the Saudi economy, the stability and security of Saudi Arabia, which is very comforting to any investor.
And one important aspect of expatriates in the Kingdom is that many of them also have unique skills and huge experiences in medicine, engineering and other technologies that the Kingdom can utilize rather than seeing them go to their native countries or other parts of the world. The Saudi Vision 2030 will have a great impact not only on the Saudi economy but it will improve the living standards of the expatriates living in the Kingdom.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Green Card: A Ray of Hope for ExPats reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.