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Pakistanis welcome ‘Privileged Iqama’ scheme

Pakistanis welcome ‘Privileged Iqama’ scheme

ISLAMABAD: Pakistanis from all walks of life have expressed their excitement over the approval of the new “Privileged Iqama” scheme in Saudi Arabia, which will make it easier for them to live and do business in the Kingdom.

The green-lighting of the new residency scheme will be a game-changer for 2.7 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom, giving those who can pay the right to live, work and own business and property.

“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 investors, since many people have been losing their businesses to kafeels (local sponsors).”

Without a Saudi sponsor, a foreigner cannot do business in Saudi Arabia —  and even then, the sponsor must have control over the business, 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 sized 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 2018 with exports amounting to $170 million and imports at $1.7 billion. Since 1971, Pakistani contributions toward the Kingdom’s economy have been nearly $6 billion.

In order to be eligible for the new scheme, expatriates must meet several criteria including having a valid passport, clean criminal record, financial solvency, and authentic credit and health reports.

Farhan Ahmed, who runs an Islamabad-based travel and tourism company, said Riyadh’s decision was encouraging for Pakistan’s business community.

“This is a very positive move. It gives hope to the business community to go and invest there without concerns over the protection of their investment,” he said.

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