Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card

Billboards showing portraits of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan displayed on a roadside ahead of the prince's arrival in Islamabad on Feb. 15, 2019. (AFP/File)
Updated 15 May 2019
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Over 2.7 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia to benefit from new green card

  • “Privileged Iqama” scheme first mentioned by Saudi Crown Prince Salman nearly three years ago
  • Once approved, new system will end the need for expatriates to have a local sponsor, or “kafeel”

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s green-lighting of a new residency scheme for expatriates is a game-changer for 2.7 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom, business officials and experts said, and might finally give expatriates who can pay a required fee the right to live, work and own business and property in the Kingdom.
The new residency scheme, officially known as a “Privileged Iqama” and commonly referred to as the Saudi “green card,” was first mentioned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman nearly three years ago. Those eligible will be able to choose between an annual renewable option or permanent residency, with indefinite leave to remain in exchange for a higher, one-off fee. Saudi government officials have told Arab News that the scheme now awaits cabinet approval. “This is a very positive and long-awaited step,” Sehr Kamran, President of the Center for Pakistan and Gulf Studies, told Arab News. “It will give confidence to the expatriate community, especially the investors, since many people had been losing their businesses to Kafeels (Saudi sponsors).”
Once approved, this new system will end the need for expatriates to have a local sponsor, or “kafeel.” For those who already bend the rules by constantly renewing limited visitor visas, there will no longer be “visa runs” every few months. It will also eliminate long queues at embassies.
Without a Kafeel, a foreigner cannot do business in Saudi Arabia, and a local sponsor has controlling share over businesses, often leading to disputes.
“The biggest benefit [of the new scheme] is that Pakistanis who have been living there are aware of their language, and they can invest in small and medium size businesses and employ other Pakistanis without relying on local partners,” Rizwan-ul-Haq, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia told Arab News.
“If mid-to-large scale businesses are assured of legal rights and a conducive environment, they would definitely move to Saudi Arabia. The educational and hospitality sector can boom,” he added.
Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia stood at $1.871 billion in 2017-18 with exports amounting to $170 million and imports at $1.7 billion. Since 1971, Pakistanis have contributed toward building the Kingdom’s infrastructure. They remit nearly $6 billion from Saudi Arabia every year.
In order to be eligible for the new green card scheme, expatriates must meet several criteria including having a valid passport, clean criminal record, financial solvency, and authentic credit and health reports.
Farhan Ahmed, the CEO of an Islamabad-based travel and tourism company, said Riyadh’s decision was encouraging for Pakistan’s business community.
“This is a very positive and encouraging move. It gives hope to the business community to go and invest there without concerns over the protection of their investment,” Ahmed said, adding that he would definitely consider availing the opportunity “after proper consideration.”


In Peshawar prison, women inmates share food and prayers in Ramadan

Updated 27 May 2019
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In Peshawar prison, women inmates share food and prayers in Ramadan

PESHAWAR: Located next to iconic landmarks like the Provincial Assembly and the High Court, the central prison in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar is a handsome old building bursting at the seams with over 1,800 prisoners. 38 of them are women.

The existing building was established in 1854 with an occupancy limit of 425 prisoners, but with the influx of thousands of inmates, a new block is now under construction and slated for completion by the end of the year. 

Inside the prison kitchens, convicted prisoners make round traditional bread and prepare Iftar meals for other inmates. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

The prison department provides basic facilities and food to inmates still under trial and to those convicted in the male, female and juvenile sections. During the month of Ramadan, these facilities extend to include special meals at Iftar, like sweet rice, chicken and potatoes served with a side of milky hot tea. 

A female inmate cooks chicken gravy for herself and other prisoners in the prison barracks before Iftar. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

“We get good food in this month (of Ramadan) and are free to offer our prayers and recite the Holy Quran at any time,” said Shahida, an inmate who has been in the prison for five years but was convicted for murder late last year. 

Acting superintendent of the prison releases prisoners after the court orders arrive. The inmates receive the good news right before Iftar time in Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

The large hall of the women’s section has a scattering of beds, but most inmates sleep, eat and pray on quilts spread out on the floor. 

A police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the women’s section in Peshawar’s central jail. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

"Some of the women get sick often,” said Iffat Shaheen, assistant superintendent of the women’s prison section. “Right now we have two pregnancy cases and one case of HIV AIDS, so we try to give them good meals. A few prisoners have small children inside prison with them and they get milk as well.” 

A female inmate gives English lessons to some of the children at the Peshawar central prison. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

Another female inmate convicted for possession of drugs has been in prison for seven months. She declined to be identified but said they had a lot of free time in Ramadan that could be put to good use. 

Women in Peshawar’s central prison spend their days reading the Quran and reciting prayer beads during the month of Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)

“This is a helpful time for us to learn skills like handicrafts and sewing,” she said. “When we leave prison, perhaps these things will pave the way for a good, halal living.” 

A woman inmate at Peshawar’s central jail has decorated her hands with henna in anticipation of the holy festival of Eid, which will mark the end of Ramadan. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)
Rooh Afza, a popular indigenous drink made from herbs and flowers, is served around Peshawar’s central prison by the bucketfuls before Iftar. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)
Weekly menu written out for prisoners at Peshawar’s central jail in Urdu. May 25, 2019. (AN photo by Saba Rehman)