New visas send welcoming message to the world’s top talent

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has recently announced long- and short-term educational visas for foreign students.

The decision was taken by the Council of Ministers and announced by the Saudi Press Agency. These two types of visas target international students and scholars who desire to study or visit KSA for educational purposes.

The long-term educational visa is granted to students, researchers and experts for the purposes of academic study and research visits, while the short-term visa is granted to students or visiting scholars for the purpose of training or participation in short study programmes. The holders of both types of visas are exempted from the statutory requirement of providing a sponsor.

Attractive study destination

The initiative is part of KSA’s Vision 2030 to improve the education sector and to present the kingdom as an attractive destination for international students. The goal is to facilitate the enrolment procedures for prospective students and to link applications with the relevant institutions.

The initiative was announced under the motto ‘Study in Saudi Arabia’ and is expected to be available to 160 countries.

Vision 2030 is an ambitious scheme to develop the kingdom and move beyond an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based one. Part of this scheme aims to transform the education sector and raise the efficiency of Saudi educational institutions.

This requires significant investment in human capital (foreign or local) and better educational outcomes. The visas initiative aims to raise the bar and accelerate growth of Saudi institutions as global educational destinations, bridging the gaps between different cultures for the betterment of humanity.

The visas address a number of issues at different levels. At one level, they aim to make Saudi Arabia a top destination for attracting talent when it comes to pursuing higher education. In addition, they are intended to promote Saudi Arabia as a prominent place to pursue studies in Arabic and Islamic fields, such as Islamic finance.

On the other hand, the plan is to raise educational standards and globally improve university rankings in areas such as international students and international perspective.

In addition, the aim of the visas is to highlight the status of Saudi Arabia as an inspiration for progress in the Middle East and to spread the values of moderation and modernisation.

More clarity needed

However, it is unclear how this type of visa will work in practice. There are some details that need to be addressed, for example, whether the visas are single or multi entry and whether an extension is permitted.

Moreover, it is not clear whether families will be allowed and included in the visa as well. In addition, it has not been announced whether there will be a cap on student numbers or whether there will be restrictions on the courses offered to those on these visas.

Moreover, we do not yet know if the visas are going to be available only to postgraduate or both undergraduate and postgraduate students. All these details need to be known before institutions can start accepting applications.

Nevertheless, the introduction of this type of visa will have a material impact on the higher education sector in Saudi Arabia. This is an ambitious mission to attract better talent, but it requires purpose and clarity.

Potential impact

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a good example of the potential impact it could make. A lot of international students pursuing their studies at KAUST make enormous contributions to KSA’s research culture.

KAUST stands out as an example of a university which is spurring innovation, driving economic growth and aligning its research to national priorities.

KAUST’s entrepreneurship centre is bridging the gap between industry and innovation by launching a number of start-ups in different fields, such as biotech and fintech. In fact, almost 69% of KAUST’s students are international students from different countries and they act as a catalyst for economic growth and innovation.

The new visa sends out a message globally that KSA is a welcoming and emerging environment for research and study and restates the country’s commitment to its Vision 2030 educational ambitions.

Ruwayshid Alruwaili is a lecturer in the English and linguistic department at Northern Borders University, Saudi Arabia.