The announcement follows a royal decree issued last Thursday which grants citizenship to “experts and exceptional global talents” who will contribute to the growth of the kingdom under its ambitious reform plans, state news agency SPA reported last week.
Foreigners in Saudi Arabia usually have renewable visas valid for only a few years and tied to employment.
The naturalization program will seek out individuals in Islamic scholarship, medicine, science, culture, sports and technology with a view to creating an “attractive environment” to cultivate and retain exceptional talent to help achieve Vision 2030 goals, SPA said.
Vision 2030 is a plan of reforms to create jobs and reduce the Saudi economy’s dependence on oil.
According to local news reports on Monday, the group that was just naturalized includes Muslim clerics who supported some of King Salman’s initiatives on religious tolerance, financial experts, medical doctors and academics who specialize in engineering, chemistry and communications.
The move comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to become a regional commercial hub and vie for foreign capital and talent.
In January, the United Arab Emirates announced a scheme that would grant citizenship to investors and other professionals including scientists, doctors and their families.
This followed a more flexible visa policy in recent years, offering longer residencies for certain types of investors, students and professionals.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)