Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card

Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card
Billboards showing portraits of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan displayed on a roadside ahead of the prince's arrival in Islamabad on Feb. 15, 2019. (AFP/File)
Updated 15 May 2019

Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card

Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card
  • “Privileged Iqama” scheme first mentioned by Saudi Crown Prince Salman nearly three years ago
  • Once approved, new system will end the need for expatriates to have a local sponsor, or “kafeel”

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s green-lighting of a new residency scheme for expatriates is a game-changer for 2.7 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom, business officials and experts said, and might finally give expatriates who can pay a required fee the right to live, work and own business and property in the Kingdom.
The new residency scheme, officially known as a “Privileged Iqama” and commonly referred to as the Saudi “green card,” was first mentioned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman nearly three years ago. Those eligible will be able to choose between an annual renewable option or permanent residency, with indefinite leave to remain in exchange for a higher, one-off fee. Saudi government officials have told Arab News that the scheme now awaits cabinet approval. “This is a very positive and long-awaited step,” Sehr Kamran, President of the Center for Pakistan and Gulf Studies, told Arab News. “It will give confidence to the expatriate community, especially the investors, since many people had been losing their businesses to Kafeels (Saudi sponsors).”
Once approved, this new system will end the need for expatriates to have a local sponsor, or “kafeel.” For those who already bend the rules by constantly renewing limited visitor visas, there will no longer be “visa runs” every few months. It will also eliminate long queues at embassies.
Without a Kafeel, a foreigner cannot do business in Saudi Arabia, and a local sponsor has controlling share over businesses, often leading to disputes.
“The biggest benefit [of the new scheme] is that Pakistanis who have been living there are aware of their language, and they can invest in small and medium size businesses and employ other Pakistanis without relying on local partners,” Rizwan-ul-Haq, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia told Arab News.
“If mid-to-large scale businesses are assured of legal rights and a conducive environment, they would definitely move to Saudi Arabia. The educational and hospitality sector can boom,” he added.
Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia stood at $1.871 billion in 2017-18 with exports amounting to $170 million and imports at $1.7 billion. Since 1971, Pakistanis have contributed toward building the Kingdom’s infrastructure. They remit nearly $6 billion from Saudi Arabia every year.
In order to be eligible for the new green card scheme, expatriates must meet several criteria including having a valid passport, clean criminal record, financial solvency, and authentic credit and health reports.
Farhan Ahmed, the CEO of an Islamabad-based travel and tourism company, said Riyadh’s decision was encouraging for Pakistan’s business community.
“This is a very positive and encouraging move. It gives hope to the business community to go and invest there without concerns over the protection of their investment,” Ahmed said, adding that he would definitely consider availing the opportunity “after proper consideration.”