Foreign-Born Women Married To Saudis Concerned Over New Citizenship Rule

Sarah Abdullah
Arab News, JEDDAH
18 June 2007

Recent changes implemented to Saudi-naturalization rules have foreign women married to Saudi men wondering if their marriage ends up in divorce whether they’ll be left without a country to call their own.

Among the new rules implemented earlier this year is a change to Article 16 that states the Saudi citizenship of foreign-born women can be revoked if they divorce their Saudi husbands. Since the Saudi rules also require these women to give up citizenship to their native homeland in order to become naturalized Saudis, these women feel like they could end up in a real quandary should their marriages end in divorce.

“The Kingdom in the past few years has established human rights organizations in the hopes of banishing the stereotype of women’s oppression in Saudi Arabia — and I applaud the Kingdom for doing so — but I think the Ministry of Interior should take another look at the consequences the new law can have on innocent mothers and children newly Saudi or made to revert to being foreign,” said Mary, an American-born woman married to a Saudi man who has been living in Riyadh for the past 18 years. “The fact of the matter is, kids know no system of nationality … just ‘mommy’,” she added.

Debbie, an American woman who married a Saudi at 18 and has lived in Jeddah for the past 26 years, agrees. She’s just now working through the Saudi naturalization process and calls the new rule bizarre.

“It really doesn’t seem right because, for example, I have been living in Saudi Arabia longer than I lived in my own country,” she said. “Once I receive the citizenship just because of divorce I could lose it. That seems really bizarre.”

Arab News tried several times to contact the Ministry of Interior’s Civil Affairs Office to verify the new regulation change for foreign wives of Saudi nationals but our calls and visits to the office went unanswered.

“Where does that leave us in terms of our children?” asked Mary. “Shouldn’t we as mothers of Saudi children be allowed to retain the Saudi nationality if for nothing else but to raise our kids and be part of their adult lives?”

Mary added that the divorced foreign wife basically has no recourse since she has likely already given up her original citizenship. In addition to the Saudi law that can revoke citizenship of these women, many countries have laws against dual citizenship. Some people, including many Saudis, hide their second nationality from the involved governments.

While some countries allow dual citizenship, such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia does not allow dual citizenship and retains the right to revoke Saudi citizenship from those who hide their other nationality.

Other rules implemented earlier this year include revocation of citizenship to those naturalized Saudis who commit crimes or any other reason determined by authorities to make the naturalized citizen unfit to be Saudi. Furthermore, anyone knowingly providing false information in order to get citizenship face a fine of SR30,000.

On the other hand, professional expats are lauding Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for maintaining Saudi Arabia’s standing offer the opportunity for Saudi citizenship based on educational accomplishments.

Dr. Sobhia Mahmoud, an Egyptian-born pediatrician who has been employed at the New Jeddah Clinic for the past seven years, told Arab News, “I think it is a good step for both the Kingdom, in offering such a chance, and for the expats, who have been loyally working in Saudi Arabia to have an opportunity for a good life that they might not be able to have in their home countries.”



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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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