JEDDAH, 24 April 2005 — The much-awaited executive bylaw of the new Naturalization Law is out and qualified expatriates can apply for Saudi citizenship from May 23. Application forms will be available at the Civil Affairs Department from next Saturday.
“The new bylaw came into effect on Friday, when it was published in the official gazette,” Nasser Al-Hanaya, undersecretary at the Interior Ministry for civil affairs said.
He said some articles of the existing naturalization law were amended to meet job work requirements and realize the interests of the Kingdom and its citizens, adding that professionals like doctors and engineers would be given preference.
Many of the Kingdom’s six million expatriate workers have been waiting for the 35-article bylaw since the Cabinet approved the newly amended Naturalization Law, hoping that it would realize their dream to become Saudi.
But Dr. Ahmed Al-Salim, undersecretary at the Interior Ministry, dashed their hopes. “Many have misunderstood the amended law as they thought it has made the road to Saudi citizenship easy,” Okaz Arabic daily quoted him as saying. “There’s no major change in conditions and regulations,” he pointed out.
He was echoing a previous statement by Hanaya who said the amended law does not imply any large-scale handout of Saudi citizenship to non-Saudis. “All applicants who have fulfilled the necessary conditions may not get citizenship as the decision to award citizenship depends on the state’s discretion,” Hanaya said. Spelling out the major amendments, Hanaya said the new law allows authorities to give citizenship to the widow of a Saudi. But it has stopped automatic citizenship of a foreign woman married to a Saudi and given the interior minister the discretion either to give her citizenship or not.
Shubaily Al-Qarni, chairman of the security committee, which supervised amendments to the law, said Saudi citizenship would be open to all foreign nationals working in the Kingdom. “The law does not aim at a particular nationality. It covers all expatriates in the country,” he said.
A foreign woman, who got citizenship after marrying a Saudi, may lose it if their marital relations ended for any reasons or she retrieved her original citizenship or won any other citizenship, Hanaya pointed out. Under the new law, a Saudi woman will not lose her citizenship if her husband adopts another citizenship unless she opts for the new citizenship of her husband.
To qualify for citizenship, the applicant should have stayed in the Kingdom continuously for not less than 10 years and should be a professional required by the country. Article 20 of the bylaw says those who stay outside the Kingdom for not more than the period of their re-entry visas will not be disqualified, even if they are absent for not more than a year.
The new law allows the government to withdraw citizenship from a naturalized Saudi within 10 years if he is convicted of any crime related to honor or undermining security or declared unwanted in the country. The new law has also increased the fine for making false statement to get citizenship to SR30,000.
Salim said the department would also accept applications of unmarried non-Saudi women. “If married she would follow the citizenship of her husband,” he added. He said the department would accept only complete applications from those who have fulfilled all conditions. Finalists will be presented to higher authorities for approval.
“The amended law has increased the applicants’ period of stay in the Kingdom from five to 10 years in order to help them acclimatize with the country’s culture and traditions and interact positively with members of society,” he said.
The applications will be studied thoroughly by a three-member panel and will give 33 points: 10 points for 10-year continuous stay, 13 points for specializations required by the country (13 points for those who have doctorates in medicine or engineering, 10 points for those holding doctorates in other sciences and eight points for master’s degree) and 10 points for family relations.