NEWS: Naturalization in the Gulf: Ladies come out on top

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Subject: NEWS: Naturalization in the Gulf: Ladies come out on top
From: Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jun 03 1999 - 19:20:03 EDT


NOTE: This article is not about trafficking, but I know that many people on
the list are very interested in laws in other countries and in general,
there has been a lack of information about the Gulf Arab states on the
list. If you have any information relating to trafficking in this region of
the world, please share it with the list.
Of course, some women are trafficked into "marriage" situations and it is
important to be aware of the rights (or lack of rights) provided to people
(and their children) who have migrated for marriage and have not yet
attained citizenship in the country of destination.

Naturalization in the Gulf: Ladies come out on top
Mideast Mirror, June 2, 1999

Acquiring the citizenship of a Gulf Arab state is no easy matter and the
governments of these oil-rich countries remain somewhat wary of naturalized
citizens, according to a Riyadh-datelined report by Jasser al-Jasser in
this week's edition of the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newsmagazine al-Wasat.

And it appears "ladies come first" where naturalization in the Gulf is
concerned, Jasser writes.

The demography of the Gulf region is unique, he notes. Since the days of
the oil boom, the Gulf has experienced inward migration on a massive scale.
Millions of foreign workers flocked to the area, attracted by newfound
wealth and abundant employment opportunities.

The governments of the Gulf Arab states were forced to introduce
legislation to preserve the characteristics of their own societies on the
one hand, and to regulate the affairs of the nationals of various countries
living there on the other.

Jasser writes:

STATISTICS: Between May 9, 1997 and April 24, 1998, 877 persons (110 of
them women, mostly daughters or spouses of Saudis or naturalized Saudis)
were naturalized as Saudi citizens.

During 1994 -- according to the latest figures from the Saudi interior
ministry -- 4,296 people from 50 different nationalities were naturalized.
Ninety percent of those were women, 3,670 of whom were married to Saudis or
naturalized Saudis.

Most of these women were Arab: 1,587 from Yemen, 643 Egyptians, 349
Syrians, and 165 Palestinians. Among non-Arab women, Pakistanis came first
with 125.

In some cases, foreign nationals granted Saudi citizenship were exclusively
women. This applied to countries such as Thailand (38), the Philippines
(9), Turkey (11), Kuwait (6), Qatar (2), Oman (2), the United States (7),
and Ireland (1).

Most if not all of these women were naturalized because of their being
married to Saudis, or because they were wives or daughters of naturalized
Saudis.

The statistics reveal the preferences of Saudi men. The strong
representation of Levantine women indicates that Saudis prefer wives from a
conservative background, in addition to underlining the historical
relationship between the Arabian Peninsula and the Arab Levant.

Breaking down the numbers of naturalized foreign women married to Saudis by
city shows Mecca to come first -- 1,003 Yemeni women were naturalized in
1994 for being married to Meccans -- followed by Jizan with 55.

Yemeni, Burmese, Indonesian, Thai, and Bukharan women tend to congregate in
western Saudi Arabia, while northerners tend to marry Palestinians,
Syrians, and Jordanians. Eastern Saudis marry from nearby countries,
especially Bahrain.

Saudis who hail from the central regions of the kingdom largely tend to
marry Arab women. It also seems that most European women married to Saudis
met their husbands while they were studying or working abroad.

RULES: Despite marriage to women of the major monotheistic faiths ("people
of the book") being permissible under Islam, practically it seems that an
application for naturalization as a Saudi citizen is more likely to succeed
if the woman concerned was a Moslem.

A foreigner married to a Saudi citizen can gain Saudi citizenship

(I) if the marriage was sanctioned by the interior ministry,
(II) if the marriage has lasted more than five years,
(III) if the woman has forfeited her original nationality, and
(IV) if she applied personally for Saudi citizenship.

Even so, the interior ministry may reject applications that fulfil these
four conditions, and is under no obligation to reveal the reasons for
rejection.

According to a resolution (no. 824) issued by the Saudi council of
ministers, foreign women cannot gain Saudi citizenship if they are married to:

* An official in the ministry of foreign affairs.
* A government official working abroad, even if not for the ministry of
foreign affairs.
* A member of the Saudi armed forces of whatever rank.
* A member of the Saudi internal security forces of whatever rank.
* A government official in a post of special importance as decreed by the
civil service council and endorsed by the council of ministers.
* A student studying abroad, whether at government or his own expense.

CONDITIONS: Each country has its own regulations for granting citizenship.
Many factors play a part in this, such as that particular country's need
for expertise in a specific field, its need for funds, its need for
increasing its population, and even its need for redressing an imbalance
between the sexes.

Canada, for example, grants citizenship to those applicants who have
particular skills as well as sufficient funds. Australia does the same in
order to address a shortage in its population, but it prefers European
immigrants.

International law deems the issue of granting citizenship to be the
prerogative of each individual state, and states are careful not to oblige
themselves to grant their citizenship to any individual even if he/she
fulfils the required conditions.

Broadly speaking, most countries grant citizenship to individuals who:

-- Were born in that particular country;
-- Have a citizen of that country as a parent;
-- Are married to a citizen;
-- Reside in that country on a continuous basis for a specific period;
-- Are adults at the time of application;
-- Are of good character;
-- Are in good health; and
-- Are able to provide for themselves.

The last five points are common conditions required by the member states of
the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for granting citizenship.

The differences between the six GCC states -- namely, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE -- in this regard are mainly in the length
of the period of residence required.

The UAE requires that Arab applicants spend seven years in the country
before applying for citizenship. This period is reduced to three years in
the case of Omani, Qatari, and Bahraini nationals, as well as of Arab
tribesmen from neighboring countries. Non-Arabs have to prove that they
were resident in the country since 1940.

Kuwait and Qatar require that Arab applicants for citizenship should have
been resident for 15 years at least; 20 for non-Arabs.

Oman, on the other hand, does not distinguish between Arabs and non-Arabs:
all have to have been resident for 20 years, but this requirement is
reduced to 10 years if the applicant has been married to an Omani since
before 1986.

Bahrain requires Arabs to be resident for 15 years, non-Arabs for 25,
before granting its citizenship.

Saudi Arabia requires a residency period of 10 years and proficiency in
Arabic.

When citizenship is granted to a head of household in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
and the UAE, his spouse is granted automatic citizenship so long as she
relinquishes her original nationality and does not state her objection to
being granted the new citizenship within one year of her husband being
granted it.

Oman requires that five years pass between a person's naturalization and
his wife's being granted citizenship, so long as they married before
February 1, 1986.

Qatar requires that the spouse reside in the country for one year after her
husband is naturalized in order to be granted citizenship.

RIGHTS: Naturalized GCC citizens do not enjoy the same rights as natives.
Moreover, he/she is usually put on probation for five years during which
the country concerned may withdraw citizenship should the person commit an
act deemed disloyal.

Naturalized GCC citizens face varying restrictions: in Saudi Arabia, for
example, they are excluded from the armed forces, the internal security
forces, the diplomatic corps and other sensitive posts.

In other Gulf countries, naturalized citizens are not eligible to vote, run
for parliament, or be appointed to a ministerial post before the passage of
a certain period: 20 years in the case of Kuwait, and 10 in Qatar and
Bahrain. While Oman grants naturalized citizens all the rights of native
Omanis, the UAE never grants them -- except for naturalized Omani, Qatari,
and Bahraini natives, who get them seven years after naturalization.

MARRIAGE TO FOREIGNERS: The foreign-born wife of a Bahraini citizen is
immediately granted citizenship; a foreign woman who marries a Qatari has
to wait two years; if she marries a UAE citizen, she has to wait three
years; in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman, she has to wait five years.

This does not mean -- at least in the case of the three latter countries --
that foreign-born wives are certain of acquiring citizenship. In fact,
requests may well be refused.

The GCC member states are particularly strict in this regard, perhaps in
order to discourage their citizens from marrying foreigners, and also in
order to discourage marriages of convenience, since citizenship is not
revoked if the marriage is annulled. On the other hand, the foreign-born
husbands of GCC citizens are not granted any special privileges as far as
naturalization goes.

GCC heads of state have the absolute authority to grant citizenship to
anyone even if they do not meet the basic conditions. This prerogative is
usually invoked when the persons concerned have done the country a great
service, if their skills are greatly desired, or for any other reason that
the head of state deems appropriate.

Dual citizenship creates many problems, due to clashes between the laws of
the countries concerned. Some countries grant automatic citizenship to all
individuals born in that country, who also hold the nationality of their
parents. Mixed marriages add to this problem, as each party may be eligible
for the other's nationality. Dual (or multiple) nationality is anathema to
the idea of loyalty to the state, and can result in confusion regarding
jurisdiction in cases of disputes, as well as in matters relating to
military service and employment in sensitive posts.

All GCC countries require that applicants for nationality renounce their
previous citizenship after they acquire the citizenship of a particular GCC
state. Conversely, GCC nationals -- as well as their dependants if they do
not specifically express their desire to retain the citizenship within a
year -- lose their citizenship if they are granted the nationality of
another country. Saudi Arabia, however, makes exceptions for this latter rule.

All GCC states can withdraw citizenship within five years of granting it if
the individual concerned was proven to have committed a crime or upon a
request being made by the interior minister. Dependants are also affected,
although most GCC states allow them to stay if they did not commit any
illegal act and if they so desire.

GCC states have no annual ceiling on the number of citizenship requests
granted, except for Kuwait which used to set a limit of 50. Kuwaiti
regulations have been amended such that the number of citizenship requests
granted per year is at the discretion of the council of ministers.

Saudi Arabia is the most prolific GCC state in granting its nationality,
approving at least 3,000 requests per year. Saudi Arabia is in a sense a
multiracial country, having many families of known Egyptian, Syrian,
Palestinian, Indian, Yemeni, and other ancestry. Family reunion is a strong
reason for granting citizenship.

All this goes to show that acquiring GCC citizenship is no easy matter.
Even fulfilling all the necessary requirements does not grant a foreigner
an automatic right to citizenship. Interior ministries are the final
arbiters in such cases, and they may exercise their prerogative to turn
down applications without having to show cause. Nevertheless, applicants
are permitted to reapply.

It also transpires that most GCC countries are cautious in dealing with
naturalized citizens who do not enjoy full citizenship rights.

Nationality regulations contain many provisos. This caution may be due to
the belief that most applicants want to acquire GCC citizenship for
financial gain, and that loyalty cannot be gauged with confidence in such
cases -- hence the long periods of residence stipulated, which are supposed
to make sure that the individual concerned is totally integrated in society.


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