Visas and work permits for Saudi Arabia can differ depending on the employee’s nationality. In the last few decades, Saudi Arabia has become a significant 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 Arabian employer to sponsor them and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) to approve them. Workers also need an ‘Iqama’, the official Saudi Arabian ID that 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, either issued online or on arrival to eligible visitors. Nationals of five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman – do not need visas to enter Saudi Arabia.
Around 50 countries’ citizens can apply for the e-Visa online, or some people can apply for a ‘visa on arrival’ (VoA) at an immigration office, but the e-Visa is the quickest and easiest route. Other nationalities have to 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 with our comprehensive knowledge of work documentation procedures and experience in supporting business expansion into the Middle East!
Holiday visitors must apply:
Travellers must check to see which procedure applies to them. These are not employment Visas.
The e-Visa has 360 days validity; people can stay for 90 days at any time up to 180 days in the year. There are four travel Visas:
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:
The Employer must apply for The Work Permit and the Residence Permit before the Employment Visa expires, and obtaining those permits is part of the process for acquiring the Iqama ID Card with a 10-digit number, required by ALL residents living and working in Saudi Arabia.
Note: Changes and updates can complicate the procedures for obtaining the required work documentation as the country goes through accelerated Saudization, officially called the Saudi Nationalisation Scheme or ‘Nitaqat’ and is 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.
Important: This Iqama ID Card should be carried continuously to prove legality in the country.
Note: The employer is responsible for providing health care and insurance (Article 144 of the Labour Law). Employer-provided insurance payments for private sector employees are divided between the company and expatriate workers and are relatively basic. However, extra cover can be purchased separately. Saudis and public sector employees pay into the social security scheme (GOSI), and healthcare is free.
The procedures for obtaining the required work documentation can be complex as there have been changes and updates, especially as the country goes through Saudization, which is officially called the Saudi Nationalisation Scheme or ‘Nitaqat’, executed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD).
This is not a new policy, but it has accelerated since 2018 and is a way of continually protecting the local workforce by investing in education, upskilling, and reserving certain professions for Saudi Arabian nationals. So, it is worth checking how this can affect business and potential staff. For instance, companies are colour-coded according to their compliance with Saudization from red up to platinum, the highest rated platinum, which gives them preferential treatment for processing immigration documentation and the ability to apply for ‘block’ visas for all workers at the same time.
Process for working in Saudi Arabia
Employees who also want to travel out of the country during employment have to apply through the Ministry of Interior for an Exit/Re-Entry Permit, which takes about one week. Employees and employers must supply the relevant paperwork, some of which must be legalised and attested. The employer pays for the visa and permits during the application procedure.
Note: The employer is responsible for providing health care and insurance (Article 144 of the Labor Law). Employer-provided insurance payments for private sector employees are divided between the company and the expatriate workers. However, extra cover can be purchased separately. Saudis and public sector employees pay into the social security scheme (GOSI), and healthcare is free.
It is essential to understand which authorities are responsible for which documentation and what paperwork is required by the employer and employee. You also need to figure out what documents need attesting to, translating and legalising. We cover the requirements for foreign employees to work for registered companies who already have a job with a sponsoring employer. The documentation is generally applied for and paid for by the employer.
Required to work in Saudi Arabia
Employers’ documentation for the Ministry of Interior
The Ministry keeps an immigration file on employers’ foreign workers. The employers register the employment contracts with the MOI, which are kept on file instead of the Iqama, including the Residence Permit being issued:
For more information, download our free guide or get in touch with our consultants here