Saudi grants first batch of permanent residencies to foreigners

The recipients come from 19 countries and include investors, doctors, engineers and financiers

Saudi Arabia granted 73 foreigners “premium” residency under a new programme to attract overseas investment by enabling selected people to buy property and do business without a Saudi sponsor.

The kingdom received thousands of applications after offering permanent residency for SAR800,000 ($213,000) or a one-year renewable permit for SAR100,000. The first batch of recipients come from 19 countries and include investors, doctors, engineers and financiers, according to a statement Monday from the government’s Premium Residency Center. It didn’t detail how many were granted permanent residency.

The programme, approved in May, is the latest sign of how the kingdom is rethinking the role for foreigners as it works to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil. It’s a landmark move in a region where many overseas workers are subject to some of the world’s most restrictive residency rules. The premium residencies also allow holders to switch jobs, exit the kingdom easily and sponsor visas for family members.

The idea for a long-term Saudi residency was first floated in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. At the time, he estimated the programme would generate about $10bn in annual revenue by 2020.

While Saudi Arabia is seeking to encourage the affluent to stay, monthly fees imposed on foreign workers and their families, along with sluggish economic growth, have prompted hundreds of thousands of other expats to leave. Those levies are designed to spur private businesses to hire Saudi nationals as citizen unemployment hovers above 12 per cent.