The ins and outs of the Saudi ‘green card’
As has been widely reported this week, the Premium Residency scheme — sometimes referred to as the Saudi “green card” — has begun accepting applications on its online portal. The scheme was approved by the Cabinet in May, but many details that were not clear at the time have now been clarified and explained.
The scheme has two strands. Lifetime Premium Residency, as the name suggests, is of unlimited duration, and there is a one-off fee of SR800,000 ($213,316). A one-year residency is available for an annual fee of SR100,000.
The “green card” is expected to have a powerful impact on the stimulation of foreign investment in the Kingdom based on Vision 2030, and will be a catalyst for such investment in several ways.
For example, the scheme will encourage the transfer of knowledge in various sectors, thus stimulating the development and empowerment of the Saudi national workforce, especially in the sciences and other new sectors. It will also ensure equality between foreign and Saudi investors, as well as facilitating procedures for expatriates working in the Kingdom, and their families.
Premium Residency will also provide foreigners with the necessary protection for their investments, and qualify them for investment incentives, on an equal basis with Saudi investors. At the same time, it requires foreign investors to abide by the Kingdom’s laws and regulations governing health, safety and the environment.
Some have asked whether Premium Residency holders may own their own private businesses, but that issue is covered by the law regulating foreign investment in the Kingdom.
Confusion has also arisen among some existing foreign investors, who believe that obtaining a license to invest in the Kingdom entitles them to the benefits of Premium Residency. This is not so, and there are several significant differences. A foreign investor has a Saudi sponsor (the investment establishment), while a Premium Residency holder does not. Also, the holder of an investor’s license cannot be issued with a work permit or have residential property registered in their name, unlike the Premium Residency holder.
There are also circumstances in which Premium Residency may be canceled: For example, if the holder is convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days or a fine of up to SR100,000, or is subject to judicial deportation. The residency may also be canceled if the holder supplied false information in their application.
It is also important to correct the misleading suggestion that the Premium Residency scheme will in any way reduce employment opportunities for Saudis. Jobs allocated to Saudis are determined according to strict regulations; the competent authorities monitor every institution that breaks these rules and apply appropriate punishments.
The Saudi “green card” is a suitable option for some, but not for others, depending on which type of residency is most appropriate to each person’s needs. In all cases, the Kingdom’s strict implementation of its residency laws complements its other efforts to strengthen its security and protect its society.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif