KSA-born expats seek citizenship

KSA-born expats seek citizenship
Updated 07 December 2013

KSA-born expats seek citizenship

KSA-born expats seek citizenship

Many expatriates born in the Kingdom are facing a real identity crisis because they have little affinity to their ancestral countries and are not regarded as Saudis.
A large percentage of second and third generation expatriates born and raised here would prefer to get special concessions or Saudi citizenship. Many feel they belong here because they speak fluent Arabic in the local dialect and have adopted the customs of the country.
However, the labor inspection campaign that started on Nov. 4 does not discriminate between expatriates born in the Kingdom and those only seeking to work here for a few years.
There are more than 8.4 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Of these, over 2 million are estimated to have been born in the country and spent their entire lives here.
There are an estimated 30,000 third-generation Saudi-born Indians in the Kingdom. If a similar percentage exists in other expatriate communities, then there are about 820,000 living in the Kingdom.
The numbers are probably higher. According to official figures in 2009, over 14.4 percent of births in the Kingdom were registered to foreign parents. More specifically, the majority of the one million Palestinians living in the Kingdom were born here.
Arab expatriates born in Saudi Arabia say they cannot return to the countries of their ancestors because they have no real ties there. At the same time, they face many obstacles in finding jobs in the Kingdom. Making matters more confusing are the rumors that expatriates born here will be considered Saudis under the Nitaqat program.
A source at the Ministry of Labor said that all residents born in the Kingdom are the responsibility of the Interior Ministry and that special concessions were made for certain categories. For example, four Palestinians with travel documents are equal to one expatriate employee, according to a local newspaper.
At the same time, the Saudi government has granted certain privileges to the sons of Saudi mothers married to foreigners. There are 584 Saudi women married to expatriates in the Makkah region, 543 in Riyadh and 490 in the Eastern Province. Approximately 2,000 Saudi women married foreigners in 2011, according to a recent statistical report released by the Ministry of Justice.
Expatriate sons of Saudi women can now benefit from Saudi citizenship privileges and remain under the sponsorship of their mothers. They are effectively Saudis and will have access to various public services including education and health, according to a decision taken by the Cabinet.
The Ministry of Labor will also consider them Saudis under the Nitaqat system to help them find jobs in the private sector. Many expatriates born here hope to have similar privileges so they can continue living here and provide a good future for their children.
A prominent Saudi scholar has urged the government to grant citizenship to expatriates born in the Kingdom. “Expats born in Saudi Arabia should be granted Saudi citizenship or be allowed to stay without a sponsor. There should be a new system that will give them special treatment,” said Sheikh Mohammed Al-Areefi recently on his Twitter account.
Ahmed Abu Khaled, an Eritrean expatriate who has a son and a daughter, told Arab News he is in a “complicated” situation. “My son knows very well that both his mother and I were born and educated in the Kingdom. He has no connections whatsoever with his original country and does not know anything about it other than the fact that his grandfather lived there for some time before coming to the Kingdom.”
Abu Khaled said he doesn't know what to say to them when they grow up. “Do I consider my children Saudis or foreigners? They were born here and so was I. I have no answer to this question,” he said.
Abu Khaled said there was no chance his children would ever go back to Eritrea. “All connections with our ancestors’ country were severed. We belong to Saudi Arabia where we were born, raised, educated, married and had our children.” He said the situation would become worse as many more generations are born in the Kingdom and are treated as foreigners.
Second and third-generation expatriates said this situation would make it difficult for them to find jobs or gain entry into schools and universities. They are also upset at not being able to benefit from government services provided to citizens.
Saeed Radwan, a Syrian born in the Kingdom, said he has forgotten that he is from Syria. “My father came to this country more than 50 years ago. I'm worried about my future and the future of my children who see themselves as Saudis and are no different from their Saudi counterparts at school. Our sense of belonging to the Kingdom has been reflected in our dress, customs and dialect. We are citizens in every sense of the word except that we do not have citizenship,” he said.
Radwan said his eldest son, who is 17 years old, has never been to Syria and that his life is determined by the renewal of his iqama every two years. “My son is not concerned about the difficulties we face every time we want to renew our iqamas. He does not know any other home apart from the Kingdom. If he goes back to Syria he will feel like a complete stranger. He will be different in terms of his dialect, customs and dress. The Syrians will think he is a Saudi while the Saudis consider him a foreigner,” he said.
Umm Ahmed, a Yemeni mother of three, said she fears for the future of her children. “My children were born in Jeddah, the same as myself and their father. They spent all their lives in this Red Sea coastal city and know nothing about Yemen but are still treated at school as foreigners,” she said. Umm Ahmed said she has had no difficulty raising her children according to Saudi customs and traditions because they are similar to those in Yemen. “We do not have anything to allow us to stay here permanently, maybe the long years we spent here may help,” she said.
Umm Saeed, another Yemeni woman, struggles to find money to renew her iqama every year. “I was born in the Kingdom. My husband and three daughters were also born here. My husband's monthly salary is only SR3,500. We have financial problems every time we want to renew our iqamas. We have to borrow money from our friends and relatives,” she said.
One would never say that Ibrahim Abdul Aziz, a 28-year-old marketer, has Pakistani heritage. He wears a thobe like a Saudi and speaks Arabic with a Saudi accent. “I was born in Jeddah but I’m still considered an expatriate. One day, I hope I’ll get Saudi nationality. That will guarantee a good future for my sons.”