Times of Oman
Jul 07, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 02:36 PM GMT
Should long-time expats be granted Omani citizenship?
July 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
For illustrative purpose only. Photo - Mohamed Alfarei via Flickr.com under Creative Commons License
 
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There is a chorus of strong voices within the expatriate community clamouring for the right to be granted Omani citizenship, after having worked for many years in the country.

Perhaps, these arguments may favour expatriates who were born in Oman. They finish school at the age of 18 and seek employment right after, often staying on for three decades. Such expatriates know no other country but Oman and may only visit the country of their parents once a year.

I am not saying granting citizenship is not happening. It is, but the department of immigration and nationality grants citizenship to very few expatriates during a highly selective process that has very little transparency.  This right is supposed to be reserved for long-term business people and workers who are contributing positively to the economy of the country. You would not find it in the legislation or written as a by-law somewhere in the offices of power.   

Of course, it is only a tiny percentage of such expatriates who have been 'honoured' with the right to become Omani nationals since 1970. Obviously, the handful of expatriates privileged enough to receive an Omani passport are well connected. This clearly shows one needs to rub shoulders with the right people. It is also very obvious that citizenship is not granted to well deserving expatriates based upon the merit of their contributions, but on who is in their circle. Migrant workers make up 1.3 million from the total population of about  4 million people. Of course, roughly half of the expatriate population is performing manual labour, and the country has no intention of granting them nationality.      

Oman fiercely prides itself as indigenous, and this is the reason few foreigners find their names engraved in the red book. Critics would say if GCC countries with similar cultures and traditions are not very liberal in granting citizenship to their expatriate populations, why then should Oman? The same hardcore critics would also say Oman has limited resources and cannot afford to share these with others. However, moderates would argue differently. A clear cut law in which expatriates become eligible to apply for citizenship will help attract the best brains in the country, knowing they would have the right to stay forever, if they wish, based on their long-term contributions.

If the cream of expatriates can remain behind, it would eventually make up for the discrepancies of talents and plug holes in the workforce's knowledge and experience. Such expatriates, once granted citizenship, would wholeheartedly bury themselves in the task. The procedure can still be highly selective, but the difference is that the cards will be on the table for every expatriate to see.  Yet, this will only be meaningful following the passing of proper legislation.

You cannot blame some expatriates who feel they have been let down after serving more than their lifetime in Oman, only to be told to go home when they reach the age of retirement. After three decades, such an expatriate is faced with the unenviable task of taking his grown children back 'home'. These youngsters, by now in their twenties, knew only one home — the one they were born to. They go to a place and start all over again as strangers in their parents' birthplace.

Oman's history
If you look at the history of Oman, the country is no stranger to migration. A century ago, Omanis migrated to East Africa and were granted citizenship in those countries because of their economic contributions. East African natives were tolerant of the culture Omanis brought to them. As a result, there are many East Africans who have Omani ancestry in these countries. They live in complete harmony, to this day, with the indigenous people.

However, the ability of expatriates to fully embrace the local culture is important, when it comes to convincing legislators. Omanis did that successfully in East Africa, but it took years.

Oman may easily opt to provide passports to expatriates worthy of citizenship, with adherence to a few conditions. This should work if the conditions would strengthen the economy and create jobs.

The real test, however, will be to convince the Majlis Al Shura to recommend a law to grant citizenship to long-term expatriates who can continue to add value to the country.

To get in touch: saleh@timesofoman.com


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