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New Saudi visas aim to lure ‘high-wealth investors’

Saudi Arabia's new long-term residency visa programme follows its HQ Programme for international companies Shutterstock
Saudi Arabia's new long-term residency visa programme follows its HQ Programme for international companies
  • Five categories for foreigners
  • Benefits include family visas
  • Warning over local talent

Saudi Arabia’s new long-term residency visas is at attracting “high-wealth investors” to the kingdom, though it may hinder the nurturing of local talent, some analysts have warned.

The updated “premium residency” options are designed to lure top global talent to Saudi Arabia as it continues its billion-dollar transformation from a hydrocarbon-based economy.

The visas cover five categories: special talent, gifted, investor, entrepreneur and real estate owner.

Benefits include the ability to conduct business, own real estate and obtain work permits for holders and family members.

“These products align with national goals to boost Saudi Arabia’s position as a global hub, attracting skilled professionals and investments,” the state-owned Saudi Press Agency reported.

The business investor residency category requires an investment of SAR7 million ($1.86 million) over two years and the hiring of 10 employees over the first 12 months.

Scott Cairns, managing director of Creation Business Consultants, said: “This is particularly interesting as Saudi Arabia strives to become the regional hub for foreign investments.”

The kingdom’s foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows increased from SAR27 billion in 2017 to SAR122 billion last year, and it hopes to raise the contribution of FDI to 5.7 percent, as set out in its Vision 2030 agenda.

The launch of the new visas comes after the implementation of Programme HQ, where international companies looking to win government contracts were instructed to move their regional headquarters to Riyadh by January 1.

CBRE Middle East this week reported that Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District has leased more than 60 percent of its office space, with occupancy rates reaching 92.2 percent.

The Saudi Premium Residency programme was originally launched in 2019, with an “unlimited” plan that cost SAR800,000, while a one-year visa was priced at SAR100,000, which had to be paid upfront.

James Swanston, a Middle East and North Africa economist with Capital Economics, said the attraction of higher-skilled foreign workers may come at the expense of nurturing local talent.

Saudi Arabia’s government has set a target of increasing employment of Saudi nationals to 70 percent by 2030. Private companies were instructed to reach 35 percent by the end of last year and 40 percent by the end of 2024.

“The concern may be that first it restricts the employment opportunities for Saudi nationals themselves within these higher-skilled sectors and does not create an incentives framework starting from the education sector to better educate and train Saudis,” Swanston said.

The UAE introduced a 10-year “golden visa” in 2019 to try to attract and retain professionals, investors, entrepreneurs and outstanding students from across the world. Almost 80,000 were issued in 2022.

As well as having “first-mover advantage” in attracting foreign workers, Swanston said, the UAE, and Dubai in particular “continues to be perceived as a more welcoming destination for workers, particularly from Western countries, due to a softer cultural approach to parts of leisure.”

Scott Livermore, chief economist at Oxford Economics, said the ongoing reforms in the kingdom “need to be accompanied with continued broader social, cultural and business measures” to further enhance Saudi Arabia’s attractiveness.

Saudi Arabia’s residency visas explained

Special Talent Residency – for executives and professionals who specialise in healthcare, science and research.

Gifted Residency – aims to integrate skilled professionals and talented individuals into Saudi Arabia’s cultural and sport sectors. 

Investor Residency – for investors “looking to capitalise on Saudi’s thriving business landscape and generate high-impact returns from across the economy”.

Entrepreneur Residency – for entrepreneurs and owners of innovative projects, looking to launch and develop their start-ups in Saudi Arabia.

Real Estate Owner Residency – for individuals who own real estate

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