In a major shift of policy, Saudi Arabia has given citizenship to an unspecified number of expats whose experience and expertise could help the Gulf country diversify away from oil. The initiative focuses on individuals with “outstanding capabilities” and backgrounds in “rare specialties,” the official Saudi Press Agency has said. The Kingdom will prioritise on expats in fields including Shariah, medicine, science, culture, sports and technology, “in order to strengthen the pace of development” and boost its attractiveness for investment and human capital, the agency reported. Saudi Arabia becomes the second Gulf country to launch an official process aimed at giving expats a larger stakehold in the economy after the neighbouring UAE announced its own naturalization programme in January. It also underscores the country’s mounting competition with other nations in the region for business and talent as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tries to grow and develop non-oil sectors, such as tourism and manufacturing.
The Saudi government is, say international media reports, speaking with 7,000 companies around the world about opening regional headquarters in the Kingdom, “offering tax breaks and other incentives to turn their desert capital into a global business hub that rivals Dubai,” reports Bloomberg. More than 40 multinational companies including Baker Hughes Co., KPMG and Schlumberger received licenses on Wednesday as part of the new program to facilitate business. “The firms will get exemptions from work visa limits, eased regulations, and help with the relocation of staff,” officials said. Other companies that have enrolled include Deloitte, Pepsico, Unilever, Siemens Mobility and Philips, according to a presentation at an investment event in Riyadh. “The region simply has untapped potential and the largest untapped potential is the kingdom and the city of Riyadh,” Fahd Al-Rasheed, chief executive of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, said in an interview. “We are going to make sure we take our share, which is going to be the lion’s share of the business in the region.”