Although the right to a nationality is considered a fundamental human right, granting, acquiring and withdrawing nationality is one of the sovereign issues that the State controls. Article (35) of the Basic Law of Governance stipulates: "The law shall set forth the provisions for Saudi Arabian citizenship". Accordingly, the process of acquiring, granting or withdrawing a nationality is subject to legal restrictions that balance between the individual's right to a nationality and the right of the Society and the State Sovereignty. Article (2) of the Saudi Arabian Nationality Law, promulgated by Royal Decree No. 8/20/5604, dated 22/02/1374H, corresponding to 20/10/1954, states that the Law does not have a retroactive effect and that all valid decisions and measures issued under previous laws are to remain in force. Nationality granted under previous laws are to be considered valid as long as based on correct procedures and true information.
The Nationality Law sets out provisions for granting, acquiring, revoking and withdrawing Saudi Arabian nationality. It adopts the principle of acquiring the original nationality by descent from one's father as a general rule. It also adopts the principle of birthplace, as an exception, in case of those who were born to unknown parents in the Kingdom. The Law approves the acquiring of the original nationality by way of descent through the mother, as an exception, when the mother is a Saudi at the birth of the baby and when it is born to a father of unknown nationality or no nationality. The Law does not distinguish between the regular and special ways of acquiring the Saudi Arabian nationality.
The Saudi Arabian Nationality Law has regulated all matters related to the right to acquire a Saudi nationality by those entitled to it without discrimination. The Law stipulates that a Saudi woman does not lose her nationality if she married a non-Saudi, unless she declares her resolve to adopt the new citizenship of her husband under the law pertaining to this new citizenship. A Saudi woman married to a non-Saudi can recover her Saudi nationality once the marriage relationship is terminated after her return to reside in the Kingdom. The Law gives the children of a Saudi woman married to a non-Saudi the right to opt for a Saudi nationality upon reaching the age of the majority if they meet the required conditions.
The basic principle of the Saudi Arabian Nationality Law is that children acquire their father's citizenship. It also adopts the principle of mono-nationality and does not provide for dual nationality. Accordingly, the Kingdom has expressed its reservation to Paragraph (2) of Article (9) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Worthy of note is that such reservation is limited to a very narrow scope in practical reality in the Kingdom, namely to the case where a Saudi woman marries a foreigner. As for other cases covered by the provision contained in the Convention, namely children born to unknown parents and those born out of wedlock, they acquire the Saudi Arabian nationality under Article (7) of the Saudi Arabian Nationality Law; this includes foster children (orphans and foundlings). The Kingdom's laws do not permit child adoption.
A number of measures have been taken to ensure that no human rights are affected by the fact that a Saudi woman married to a foreigner cannot grant her nationality to her children, nor can a non-Saudi woman who is married to a Saudi national. These include:
- Issuance of the Council of Ministers Decision No. (406), dated 27/12/1433H, corresponding to 12/11/2012, entailing approval of the following:
- Transfer of the services of children of a Saudi woman married to a foreigner to their mother, if they are residing in the Kingdom;
- Entitling the mother to bring her children to the Kingdom if they are abroad, in which case the State should bear their residency fees;
- Permitting those children to work in the private sector without the transfer of their services and treating them on a par with Saudis in respect of entitlement to education and medical treatment, and taking them into account in the calculation of the rate of Saudization of jobs in the private sector.
- Permitting a Saudi woman married to a foreigner to bring her husband to Saudi Arabia from abroad or transfer his services to her if he is residing in the Kingdom and so wishes; and permitting this husband to work in the private sector provided he has a recognized passport.