Saudi’s iqama dilemma
The Saudi representative to the ILO thinks the kingdom should consider naturalizing long-term expats, and reforming its iqama (residency) laws, he said in an interview with Arab News.
July 13, 2009 7:59 by Dana El Baltaji
Foreign workers who have been living in Gulf countries for 25 years or more should be granted free iqamas (work/residency permits) or permanent resident status outside the sponsorship system, says Abdullah Sadiq Dahlan, the Kingdom’s representative to the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO). In an interview with Arab News, Dahlan also suggested that the Kingdom reform the citizenship system to open the way for long-term legal residents to acquire naturalization.
“This group of expatriates has become deeply rooted in our society and their return back to their respective countries has become a real problem for them,” he said.
Dahlan described the new regulations to obtain Saudi nationality, issued about two years ago, as “pioneering and in favor of foreign manpower,” but he also said more needs to be done for long-term foreign workers.
“We should further develop investment regulations for these foreigners in order to enable them to practice business and trade according to certain rules and without certain fees.”
He said that foreigners working under the sponsorship of Saudis run more than half of the small establishments in the Kingdom.
“We have to facilitate the process that will enable the foreigners who have stayed for a long time in the Kingdom to easily obtain Saudi nationality,” he said, also suggesting that such workers should be exempt from having to renew their iqamas every two years.
Dahlan suggested that Saudi Arabia do more to retain and benefit from the labor skills that workers acquire when they spend so much time working in the Kingdom.