It was recently announced that those wishing to apply for citizenship are now at the mercy of a particularly ruthless points system. On a practical level, for wives of Saudi’s to obtain citizenship, they must now…
1) Have had the marriage permission for 12 years (this does not include the years of marriage before gaining marriage permission from the Saudi government)
2) Had more than 2 children with their Saudi husband
3) Have at least a bachelors degree.
Now, personally I’m on zero. Even if I fulfil the first two requirements in the future inshaAllah, it doesn’t count for much because I don’t have a degree. And although I am aware that to protect my own future prospects in Saudi (not just to obtain citizenship) I should finish my degree, the reality is that I have attempted the university thing on three separate occasions so far, and I loathed it every time. So, the chances of my attaining a degree in the future, is rather slim especially if I’m in Saudi popping out all those kids as per the first two requirements! We must also consider those women who have been married to Saudi men and lived in KSA for years and have children but do not have a degree. They have more right than most to be granted citizenship and yet according to the new system – they cannot.
So now you may be asking why someone with a Western passport aka key to the door of opportunity, would exchange that for a Saudi one. Its appeal for myself and many others married to Saudis, is that it grants some degree of solid protection for the future inshaAllah.
Saudi visas, like most of the Arab Gulf countries, run on a sponsor system. Foreign women married to Saudi’s are also subject to this system. Until they obtain citizenship, which as we can see is neither quick nor easy, their Saudi husband must sponsor their iqama aka residency permit. The iqama is received upon entering Saudi Arabia after obtaining the marriage permission and marrying under their law. The iqama must be renewed every couple of years. This means that, should such a marriage end in divorce, your husband and his family can choose not to sponsor you so that you can stay. Without a sponsor, you will be deported. This is a problem if there are children involved because they will have Saudi citizenship and as such cannot be taken back to your country with you unless your husband gives written permission (very rare).
If such a woman has been deported and is still unable to find a sponsor to live in Saudi, the only way to get back into the country on a long term basis is to gain employment there. Easy? Not so much. Applying for a job in Saudi Arabia from outside the country is extremely difficult if you do not have at least a bachelor’s degree and years of experience in a field of work. Employment opportunities for foreigners in KSA are concentrated in the medical and educational (teaching English as a foreign language) fields. Unfortunately, with the anticipated Saudisation of workplaces in KSA, it’s likely that in time it will only become more difficult.
However, it is possible to have someone other than your husband or in-laws sponsor you should the marriage go bad. I was recently advised of two separate cases where non Saudi women who were separated from their husbands gained not only sponsorship to remain in KSA with their children, but financial assistance from a Saudi prince mashaAllah may Allah reward him. Apparently Court appointed lawyers can also act as sponsors and I’m sure there are many other possible candidates.
If the woman cannot find a job in Saudi Arabia, it is possible for her to visit her children in Saudi Arabia provided that her husband issues a ‘no objection’ statement.
For those women who are able to remain in Saudi Arabia as well as those who wish to leave following divorce, it is highly unlikely that they will gain custody of their children. It is not common for even Saudi women to get custody of their children and it is even less common for non Saudi women. Generally, the Saudi Courts grant the father custody and the wife visitation rights, however, there are cases where the woman didn’t even receive those. Needless to say, none of this reflects the way things should be done under Shari’a (Islamic) law. For a description of how child custody in the Shari’a works please see this link.
Ostensibly, the reason the government has been making the citizenship laws increasingly tough is that non Saudi women were marrying Saudi men simply to obtain citizenship and once they received it they would escape with their children and then the government would have to deal with distressed fathers begging them for help. And to that I say – where is the proof? We hear a lot of these sorts of claims by the Saudi government used to justify unreasonable laws and on the rare occasion evidence is provided, it is extremely unreliable. Two good examples of this are the laws which govern marrying foreigners and those against women driving.
Should all non Saudi wives, a large number of whom are Western women who have no reason to want citizenship other than to protect themselves and their family, be punished for the alleged crimes of what I suspect are a relative minority? Is this yet another attempt to punish and deter those foreigners who ‘lured in’ Saudi men? I suspect so.