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.”


Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

Updated 14 min 59 sec ago
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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

  • Traders in Bannu, one of province’s worst-hit districts, had earlier refused to administer drops to protest new taxes, call off boycott
  • Provincial Information Minister says government will ensure polio teams reach every child no matter the obstacles

PESHAWAR: The government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province warned on Tuesday it would take strict action against anyone misusing the anti-polio drive just days after traders in Bannu, a district worst hit by the virus, refused to allow the administering of polio drops to protest new taxes.
Pakistan’s polio eradication campaign has hit serious snags in recent months, with an alarming spike in reported cases that has raised doubts over the quality of vaccination reporting and prompted officials to review their approach to stopping the crippling disease.
The country is one of only three in the world where polio is endemic, along with neighboring Afghanistan and Nigeria, but vaccination campaigns have cut the disease sharply, with only a dozen cases last year compared with 306 in 2014 and more than 350,000 in 1988, according to Pakistani health officials.
However, there has been a worrying jump this year, with 53 new cases recorded, 32 of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Senseless people who are misusing the anti-polio drive for their personal interests, the government will take action against them and we will not spare them,” Provincial Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai told Arab News. “Polio is no less a threat than terrorism. We will make our province and our country polio-free the way we won the war against terrorism.”
“Despite being a nuclear power, do you want Pakistan to stand with Nigeria and Afghanistan [as countries where polio persists]?” Yousafzai asked. “Never ever. We will ensure polio teams reach every child.”
A new round of vaccinations is scheduled to be launched from August 26 to September 1 in 24 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Bannu, said Kamran Afridi, the coordinator of the Emergency Operation Center for polio eradication. Around 30 polio cases out of 32 reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year have emerged in Bannu.
Afridi said following the recent announcement of protests by traders in Bannu traders, all District Coordination Officers had been directed to engage the community and launch awareness campaigns. 
On August 18, traders in Bannu, a district to the volatile North Waziristan tribal district, threatened to boycott anti-polio drives to build pressure on the government to reverse “heavy taxes’” levied on small businesses. Although the boycott has since been called off, it highlights the complexity of Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign. 
“We have called off our polio boycott but we had to announce the boycott just to get the government’s attention to reverse unprecedented increase in taxes,” Shah Wazir, president of the Bannu Chamber of Commerce, said.