Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to group of "talented" expats

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View shows the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2017. Picture taken March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

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DUBAI, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has granted citizenship to a group of expatriates including doctors, clerics and academics, becoming the second Gulf Arab state to introduce a formal naturalization programme for foreigners with exceptional skills this year.

The announcement follows a royal decree issued last Thursday which grants citizenship to "experts and exceptional global talents" who will contribute to the growth of the kingdom under its ambitious reform plans, state news agency SPA reported last week.

Foreigners in Saudi Arabia usually have renewable visas valid for only a few years and tied to employment.

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The naturalization program will seek out individuals in Islamic scholarship, medicine, science, culture, sports and technology with a view to creating an "attractive environment" to cultivate and retain exceptional talent to help achieve Vision 2030 goals, SPA said.

Vision 2030 is a plan of reforms to create jobs and reduce the Saudi economy's dependence on oil.

According to local news reports on Monday, the group that was just naturalized includes Muslim clerics who supported some of King Salman's initiatives on religious tolerance, financial experts, medical doctors and academics who specialize in engineering, chemistry and communications.

The move comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to become a regional commercial hub and vie for foreign capital and talent. read more

In January, the United Arab Emirates announced a scheme that would grant citizenship to investors and other professionals including scientists, doctors and their families. read more

This followed a more flexible visa policy in recent years, offering longer residencies for certain types of investors, students and professionals.

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Reporting by Dubai newsroom; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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