Oman will start granting long-term residence visas to foreign investors, state media said on Wednesday, as the debt-burdened Gulf state pursues wide-ranging reforms to fix its shaky finances.
The move to offer renewable 5- or 10-year residency visas echoes moves by neighbour the United Arab Emirates in recent years to offer longer-term residencies and recently, even citizenships, to investors and certain professionals.
Non-citizens in Gulf Cooperation Countries usually have renewable visas valid for only a few years tied to employment. In the era of lower oil prices and economic diversification away from hydrocarbons, states are looking to retain residents and their families who can contribute to the economy.
Oman's initiative, effective from September, grants foreign investors and retirees the right to reside for long periods in the sultanate, the ministry added.
Oman is among the weakest countries financially in the oil-rich GCC region.
Since the oil price crash in 2014, its debt to GDP ratio has leapt from about 15% in 2015 to 80% last year, while Oman's plans to diversify revenue away from oil and to reduce spending on its bloated public sector have lagged.
Austerity measures unveiled last year are seen as crucial for maintaining the cash-strapped country's ability to access international debt markets.
A month ago groups of Omanis demanding jobs held protests across the country in the biggest challenge yet to the new ruler of Oman, a country of around 5 million people.
In response, Sultan Haitham, who acceded to power in January 2020, ordered the government to accelerate plans to create thousands of jobs.
Expatriates make up around 42% of Oman's population, government data from 2020 showed. The country has a long-standing workforce nationalisation policy, known as Omanisation, to create employment opportunities for its citizens.
The number of foreign workers in the Gulf state began to fall in 2018.
In the latest development, this week local media reported that from January only Omani nationals will be able to work in Seeb Central Market, a main market near the capital Muscat.
(Reporting by Ahmad Elhamy; Wrtiign by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams)