Residency regulations revisited!

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EVERY now and then, regulations are issued without justification and interpretation, and it is difficult for us, as commentators and writers, to explain them to the public. One of those is the new residency system, and the raising of fees for residents and their families every year, until 2020. Similar increases were leveled on companies, as well.

As a consequence, a high percentage of expatriates have decided either to resign and leave the country, or to send away their families and remain single. Companies already suffering from low liquidity, purchasing power and squeezed market, in addition to other economic pressures, have resorted to deep restructuring and reduction of their workforce — Saudis and non-Saudis.

In defense of these regulations, some calculate that the public treasury would gain billions of dollars in new fees, annually. They expect the departure of millions of families to ease pressure on our infrastructure and public services, such as electricity, water and transportation; reduce the consumption of subsidized products; create jobs for citizens and eliminate illegal businesses ownership by non-Saudis (tasatur).

In response critics argue that the fees won’t be collected if the expatriates choose to send away their families. Instead, we would lose their residency fees as well. Public services, food and other products and services have increased and will continue to increase their prices with the application of VAT next year. While low and middle class citizens are compensated, expatriates will bear the full cost.

The creation of employment opportunities for citizens is already being achieved by existing Saudization laws apart from attracting local and foreign investments. As for illegal business ownership, the permanent residency (Green Card) proposed for investors and senior employees with taxes on their business activities would eliminate the phenomenon and generate billions of dollars for state treasury.

Let us not forget that we are also trying to reduce remittances and revive the real estate, commercial and recreational markets. How could we if millions exit, leaving us with half-empty homes, schools and markets? Adding the limited investment, trade and property opportunities available for expats, they would have to send most of their income home. In addition, a family would have provided residents with stability and security, protecting them from strayed currents and forbidden paths.

All the above have been discussed by economists, observers and writers, but I would focus here on an important aspect —the human and social dimension. Some of the guest families have lived among us for decades. They shared our lives and values, learned in our schools, worked in our institutions and contributed to the development of our nation.

Today, many of them are forced to leave, suddenly, to their original countries. Some, like the Palestinians, Burmese, Yemenis, Syrians, Libyans, Somalis and Afghanis, no longer have safe homes to return to. Let us imagine the bitterness they feel now and how it may poison the good memories, human relations and beautiful feelings they had for us and the land of Islam, the Kingdom of humanity, the refuge of the oppressed.

On the other hand, social networking sites are witnessing the growing hostility toward our guests (some of whom were called foreigners, even if they were Arabs and Muslims) by accusing them of stealing our jobs, threatening our security and stability and corrupting our culture and morals. My confidence in the nature of our hospitable Arab and Muslim society, leads me to I suspect that our enemies stand behind these malicious campaigns to dent our image, provoke hostility and hatred, and turn our guest workers against us. See how the Houthis are welcoming returnees and encouraging them to join their ranks.

I hope that the regulations will be reviewed, updated and developed on the basis of observations, developments and consultation with the Shoura Council, businesses, and specialists in every related field. I trust this would be done in the spirit of teamwork and transparency that we have been accustomed to since the launch of the Saudi Vision 2030.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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