International immigrants in Saudi Arabia, who are still a small share of the total population, face many obstacles to integration under the unfavourable policies. Saudi Arabia ranks last out of the 56 MIPEX countries. Saudi Arabia scores 10 on the 100-point MIPEX scale, while the average MIPEX country scored 49. The obstacles facing international migrants in Saudi Arabia are greater than in any other MIPEX country. International immigrants in Saudi Arabia are confronted with the most restrictive policies. Saudi Arabia makes (almost) no investment in integration for immigrants.
Saudi Arabia’s approach to integration is categorised by MIPEX as ‘immigration without integration’ because Saudi policies refuse to recognise Saudi Arabia as a country of immigration and integration. International immigrants are denied basic rights and equal opportunities to participate in society. In fact, access to basic rights and equal opportunities are weaker in Saudi Arabia than in most MIPEX countries. Although non-Saudi investors are able to settle long-term in Saudi Arabia, the real only investment in long-term integration (secure future) is made in the area of family reunion. Certain categories of international immigrants (mostly, high-skilled migrants) are allowed to bring their family. Compared to the situation in the other ‘immigration without integration’ countries, immigrants in Saudi Arabia face the least favourable policies to settle permanently.
Saudi Arabia’s approach to integration matters because state policies can influence whether or not integration works as a two-way process. The way that governments treat international migrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Saudi Arabia’s current policies may encourage the public to think of international migrants as their subordinates and as strangers.
Furthermore, many obstacles emerge for immigrants in nearly all areas of life in Saudi Arabia. Policies on labour market, political participation, permanent residence, and access to nationality emerged as critically unfavourable for integration and scored ‘0’ (out of 100) on the MIPEX scale.
Saudi Arabia’s integration policies are less favourable than all the other ‘immigration without integration’ countries and the Middle Eastern countries included in MIPEX (Israel, Jordan, United Arab Emirates).
- Labour market mobility: Critically unfavourable: Saudi Arabia ranks the lowest in the MIPEX 56 in terms of labour market mobility. Immigrants face considerable obstacles in accessing the labour market, as some private sectors and professions are reserved for Saudi nationals. There is no general and targeted support to improve their professional skills or opportunities. Since 2018, employment in the public sector is reserved for Saudi nationals. **Update 2020: a new amedment of the labour law has been approved (Resolution No. 51848/1442) and, as of 2021, foreign workers have more flexibility to change employers and freedom of entry/exit.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: Only qualified and highly qualified immigrants can apply for family reunification and a restrictive definition of dependency is enforced. Reunited families have fewer and less secure rights, including no right to an autonomous residence permit.
- Education: Unfavourable: Although immigrant pupils can legally access compulsory education, they face numerous practical obstacles and Saudi Arabia does nothing to encourage them across the education system or support diversity in the educational sector.
- Health: Slightly unfavourable: Immigrant workers and their families have access to the Saudi health system through compulsory health insurance. Asylum seekers face additional requirements and obstacles to access the system, as Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and asylum is regulated within special schemes. Immigrants enjoy little information or support targeted to meet their specific health needs.
- Political participation: Critically Unfavourable: International immigrants are fully denied the opportunity to participate in public life in Saudi Arabia, as foreign citizens have no right to vote or to join political parties, to be consulted by policymakers and no support is provided for immigrant organisations at a national level.
- Permanent residence: Critically unfavourable: Saudi Arabia ranks the lowest in the MIPEX 56 in terms of permanent residence. International immigrants have no legal entitlement to obtain permanent residence. This can only be conferred to Muslim immigrants under very restrictive conditions which de facto exclude the large majority of immigrants. In 2019, Saudi Arabia introduced the Premium Residency Card (PRC), a new type of ‘premium’ residency without sponsor. However, this is not really a permanent residence scheme but it aims to attract investors and wealthy people, as permanent residency may be granted for 800,000 riyals ($213,000).
- Access to nationality: Critically unfavourable: Saudi Arabia ranks the lowest in the MIPEX 56 in terms of access to nationality. The path to Saudi citizenship is long (>10 years) and burdensome, with many restrictive requirements to be satisfied. Saudi Arabia has not followed international reform trends to accommodate dual nationality for foreign citizens or birthright citizenship entitlements for their Saudi-born children.
- Anti-discrimination: Unfavourable: Saudi Arabia ranks in the bottom 5 concerning anti-discrimination policies. The country does not have an anti-discrimination law, instead it applies a general principle of non-discrimination in line with the principles of Islamic Sharia. Victims of discrimination are supported by weak enforcement mechanisms and an equality body with a very general mandate. **Update 2020:The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development is currently working on a national anti-discrimination policy.