JEDDAH — James B. Smith, US Ambassador to the Kingdom, lauded the efforts of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for his role in developing the country. He spoke highly of the monarch’s unshakable commitment to developing the education sector, and said, “We believe that continuing and expanding the process of development will be among the best achievements of the Saudi people.”
He praised the King’s wisdom, which he said has enhanced security, stability and peace in the region. He added that Crown Prince Salman also commands great respect.
Regarding Saudi-American relations, Smith reiterated that the US had historical ties and long-term relations with the Kingdom. Over 250,000 Americans have lived in the Kingdom and played a vital role in the process of development, he noted.
Smith believes that the volume of bilateral trade — approximately $60 billion annually - demonstrates the intent of both countries to enhance and strengthen these commercial ties. Last year, the US exported around $14 billion worth of goods to the Kingdom, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year.
He added that his country welcomed the travel of Saudi businessmen to the US. The US Commercial Office in Jeddah has facilitated the travel of over 800 Saudi business delegations to the United States every year to visit commercial exhibitions. The office also arranges meetings between Saudi and American businessmen for potential joint ventures. Many US companies come to the Kingdom searching for new partners to start businesses.
“Undoubtedly, strong commercial ties have resulted in economic progress and prosperity to both sides,” Smith said.
Speaking on the number of Saudi students in the US, he said there are currently more than 66,000 students in various colleges and universities throughout the country. 77 percent of the students (51,000) are male while 23 percent (15,000) are female.
Statistics show that 51 percent of Saudi students who study abroad prefer the US to other countries for completing their graduate studies.
“We’re convinced that Saudi students studying inside the Kingdom or abroad will play a vital role in developing their country after they complete their studies. We’re more than happy to help them achieve their academic and professional goals.”
In 2005, the number of Saudi students in the US plummeted to 3000. In June 2005, the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program was established, the program aimed to send 15,000-17,000 Saudi students to the US over a period of five years. However, the total number of Saudi students sent through the program reached 38,000 last year.
Regarding US visa regulations for Saudis, he stated that all obstacles facing Saudi students keen to attend an educational institution in the US have been removed. Saudis who wish to go for educational or tourist purposes are eligible for a five-year student visa and multiple entry tourist visas.
Smith denied reports claiming that Saudis entering the US have gone through strict measures at airports. “Saudi students entering the US are no longer required to register their names at airports.” Last year, 40,000 visas were issued to Saudis all over the Kingdom while this year the number has increased to over 50,000.