Saudi Arabia Visas

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Saudi Arabia Visas, Work Permits and Migration

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has modernized in leaps and bounds but in some areas has stayed with its traditions and Islamic teachings. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s largest oil deposits, the largest sand desert on the planet and boasts a world class airport covering more than 300 square miles – all this and more accomplished since the kingdom’s formation in 1932.  In the last few decades Saudi Arabia has become a major economic power and encourages economic growth and much-needed skills for development. Expats were welcomed in their millions. However, the focus since the launch of ‘Saudization’ in 2011 has been on developing the local workforce and diversifying beyond petroleum.

As well as introducing a fee on expatriate dependents causing a cost-of-living increase, there have also been restrictions on which professions and sectors foreigners can be employed in. Foreigners require a Saudi employer to sponsor them, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD) to approve them. Workers also require an ‘Iqama’ which is the official Saudi ID and proves employees are legally in the country and includes details of the work and residence permits.

In September 2019, Saudi opened to tourists by introducing the e-Visa which is either issued online or on arrival to eligible visitors. Nationals of five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries’ do not need a visa to enter Saudi Arabia – the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Around 50 countries’ citizens can apply for the e-Visa online, or some people can apply for the ‘visa on arrival’ (VoA) at an immigration office; but the e-Visa is the quickest and easiest route. Other nationalities must visit an embassy or consulate in their home country.

Since restricting employment for foreigners, the system has become more complicated and convoluted. This is where Bradford Jacobs can help. As well as having a comprehensive knowledge of work documentation procedures, it also keeps abreast of changes to the systems and laws which are strict and cost time and money if they are contravened. We are here for all aspects of companies’ expansion into Saudi Arabia … including visas and permits.

What Types of Work Visas, and Permits for Saudi Arabia are there?

As with most countries, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has requirements when visitors enter for whatever purpose. Holiday visitors must apply 1) online for an e-Visa, or 2) on arrival at an immigration center or 3) at a local embassy or consulate in their home country before they leave. So, travelers must check to see which procedure applies to them. These are not employment visas.  The e-Visa has 360 days validity and people can stay for 90 days at any one time up to 180 days in the year. There are four travel visas, for: Tourism, Event Visa, Family Visit Visa, Pilgrimage for Umrah.

Note: For the five other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), their nationals can enter without a visa and on their country’s national ID.

Other Main Visa types include:

  • Employment Visa / Work Visa for those who have a job with a sponsoring employer and employment contract
  • Temporary Work Visa for short term employment usually connected to a particular project, acquired before entering KSA in a similar process as the Employment Visa. It allows employees to work on behalf of a foreign company if there is no representative in Saudi Arabia. Duration 30 or 90 days 
  • Business Visit Visa – with a letter of invitation regarding business meetings, conferences, or for the employed, self-employed, or sole traders. Also, for business owners, officers of companies or directors without a letter of invitation who may want to investigate business in Saudi. This is, however, at the discretion of the Foreign Affairs Department at the local embassy where the visa is applied for
  • Residence Visa gives people the right to reside in the KSA, own property and a car and the legal right to work in private companies. In 2019, the KSA implemented a ‘Premium Residence Permit’ as part of a reform plan to allow new rights to employees a.k.a. Green Card. This allows permanent residency without the need for a sponsor at a cost of SAR 800,000 (€209,000; US$213,000) or SAR 100,000 (€26,000; US$27,000) for an annual residence permit
  • Family Visas issued for dependents which incurs a monthly fee of SAR 400 (€104; US$107)
  • Transit Visa for no longer than 48 hours available to stopover travelers

The Work Permit and the Residence Permit are applied for by the employer before the Employment Visa expires and are part of the process for acquiring the Iqama ID Card with a 10-digit number, required by ALL residents living and working in the KSA.

Note: Saudization. The procedures for obtaining the required work documentation can be complicated by changes and updates and as the country goes through accelerated Saudization, which is officially called the Saudi Nationalisation Scheme or ‘Nitaqat’ and implemented through the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD). Companies are expected to consider local workers before applying to onboard foreigners.

Documentation needed to work in Saudi Arabia

The Employment / Work Visa allowing workers to travel to KSA and work.

  • This is the main work visa for foreigners working for legally registered companies who act as their sponsor. They should have an employment contract to be able to apply for this visa
  • When receiving the visa, the employee can enter the country to work.  It is issued through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a local embassy or consulate in their home country and can take from three weeks to eight weeks
  • This visa is valid for one year for the worker to use it. Then the holders can travel to and enter the country to work for 90 days. During this time the employer must apply for the residence permit and work permit for long term employment and residence
  • There are fines if the company fails to comply with the work documentation of up to SAR 100,000 (€26,000; US$27,000) and they can also have their license rescinded.  Employees also can be fined up to SAR 10,000 (€2,600; US$2,700) and may even be arrested
  • The employer starts the visa application process with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD). However, to act as sponsor they require a visa allocation to be able to employ foreigners for which they receive a block number for the visas, also from the HRSD
  • After the employee receives his contract and the visa block number, they finalize the process at the local embassy by presenting documentation and completed application form

The Work Permit is part of the Residence Permit process which allows long term employment and residency.

  • Before foreign companies can begin operating or employing workers, foreigners, or locals, they require a commercial license which is the final part of setting up a company in the KSA
  • The employment contract is registered with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) before a Residence Permit can be issued; the MOI keeps an immigration file on all the employers’ foreign workers
  • The employer, as the sponsor, applies for Residence Permit and the Work Permit when the employee receives the employment visa and travels to Saudi. They are the legal permits to live and work in the country

The Iqama is the National ID Card.

  • This is also the Residence Permit. The Work Permit must be finalized before applying for the Iqama. Initially this is done through the HRSD and once approved is forwarded to the Ministry of Interior where it is issued via the ‘Directorate General for Passports’
  • The Work Permit (and employment contract) determines how long the Residence Permit or Iqama is valid for – up to two years
  • The ID details include name, DOB, nationality, expiry date plus employer details. The Iqama serves as the Residence and Work Permit. It can be used to deal with government agencies and to open a bank account etc.

Employees who want to travel out of the country during employment, must apply through the Ministry of Interior for an Exit/Re-Entry Permit, which takes about one week.

Important: This Iqama ID Card should be carried continuously to prove legality in the country.

Note: It is the employer’s responsibility to provide health care and insurance (Article 144 of the Labor Law). Employer-provided insurance payments for private sector employees is divided between the company and expatriate workers and is basic. However, extra cover can be purchased separately.  Saudis and public sector employees pay into the social security scheme (GOSI) and healthcare is free.