Saudi Arabia is set to introduce a permanent residency card system for expats, similar to the green card in the United States.

Officials say that it will be a vast improvement on the sponsorship system currently in place and mean that expats will have the same benefits and services as Saudi citizens including when it comes to health and finance.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, announced the government's plan for the new system. It is expected that an independent authority will be set up to implement the new system.

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The green card system in the US allows expats to live and work in the country permanently. They are initially valid for 10 years but can be renewed. It is also regarded as a path to gain citizenship.

"Green card holders enjoy all the rights US citizens enjoy except the right to nomination, election and joining the armed forces. I believe the same thing will happen in Saudi Arabia," said Nidal Ridwan, chairman of the Federation of Labour Committees.

The Kingdom is keen to attract more highly qualified foreign workers but they are often put off by their lack of benefits compared with Saudi citizens and leave after a few years. It also wants to attract more foreign investment.

It wants to attract expats and encourage them to stay. But to get permanent residency, applicants need to have specific academic qualifications and professional skills in addition to capital funds for investors to add value to the Saudi economy and society.

According to economic analyst Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the move should have a positive impact on the Saudi economy. "It will give an opportunity for expats having good revenue to invest in the Kingdom's businesses and real estate," he said.

Further details are expected to be announced soon but it is likely the green card system will allow foreign workers to own property but they will probably end up paying more tax.