Saudi citizenship rules need a review

Saudi citizenship rules need a review

Sabria S. Jawhar
Saudi citizenship rules have always been kind of tricky, not to mention notoriously difficult for foreigners to obtain even under the best of circumstances.
There’s a reason for this. Saudis are concerned about the social fabric of their country and very protective of their customs and traditions. The need to protect our country’s identity and heritage is noble, but it also comes at a cost. Thousands of children born to Saudi mothers and foreign fathers are caught in a limbo. While these children carry Saudi blood they do not enjoy the full rights of a Saudi.
The issues of granting more rights to children of Saudi mothers and foreign fathers have been addressed in the past and some progress has been made.
Two years ago the Saudi Passport Department issued a directive that allows children born to expatriates and Saudi mothers the rights identical to Saudis to work, receive an education and have access to medical care. Expat fathers married to a Saudi can live permanently in the country based on their wives’ sponsorship as long as their marriage contract was issued in Saudi Arabia. This eases the burden on families who now have peace of mind that their non-Saudi children can receive an education and health care without jumping through hoops.
This is a tremendous leap for children without a Saudi passport and very encouraging. Now, it seems the Saudi government is poised to take another step. The Shoura Council is studying a proposal to give nationality to the children of a Saudi mother and non-Saudi father in an effort to keep up with the growing trend of Saudi women marrying non-Saudis.
Shoura Council member Latifah Al-Shalan recently told the Arabic press that, “We must review some of the old laws. The nationality law has been amended a few times even though it has been in place for 60 years. Things have changed since then. The country has developed.”
She added: “More and more Saudi women are marrying foreigners. This is a worrying trend. We must protect our social fabric. Saudi women should have the right to grant their children Saudi nationality.”
Whether it’s a worrying trend is up for debate, but as the world shrinks and Saudis are exposed more each year to the outside world and its influences, it’s inevitable that a Saudi woman marrying another Saudi is no longer an iron-clad rule in Saudi society. Obviously, Saudi women are becoming more selective in the partner they choose for life and it’s their right to choose whom they want to marry.
As a result, marriages between Saudi women and non-Saudis have been averaging about 2,000 annually over the past three years. As the number of such marriages continues to climb, along with the resulting increase of children without the Saudi citizenship, the government is put in a position that it must adjust its laws to address the new trend.
The proposal, if it becomes law, will provide protection for children who are vulnerable. Divorce, for example among all couples married in Saudi Arabia has climbed from about 34,000 in 2014 to about 46,000 this year. It’s estimated that as much as 30 percent of the couples who marry in Saudi Arabia end up in separation or divorce.
Divorce and the death of either parent leaves these children with few resources, so addressing the issue now is critical to the safety and well-being of the children.
The proposal studied by the Shoura Council, however, only addresses the plight of children and not the foreign husband. Non-Saudi husbands can obtain citizenship through a point system, although achieving the appropriate number of points to qualify for nationality can be elusive under the government’s strict guidelines concerning the length of residency, education and the type of job he holds.

• Sabria S. Jawhar is an assistant professor of Applied and Educational Linguistics Languages and Cultural Studies Department at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences National Guard Health Affairs
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