How to Obtain a Work Permit for Saudi Arabia
It is the responsibility of an employer or sponsor to arrange an Employment Visa (valid from 14 to 90 days) to allow an employee entry into Saudi Arabia, and to subsequently apply for a Residence Permit (Iqama).
It is also possible, although less common, for an employee to enter the country on a Business Visa, a Temporary Work Visa, a Group Employment Visa or a Seasonal Employment Visa:
A Business Visa allows foreign nationals to conduct limited business with a sponsor or client in Saudi Arabia – for example, to discuss contracts or hold general business meetings. In practice, this visa is also often used to enable short-term contract services, such as medical, technical and consultancy, or for training. Business Visas do not give the right to live in the country, or work beyond the limited conditions of the short-term contract.
Applications for this visa normally require a letter of invitation from a Saudi national or company (who acts as a sponsor), addressed to the applicant’s local YaseenOverseas and giving specific details of the work or service to be provided. This requirement may not apply to chairmen, chief executive officers, presidents and vice-presidents of certain established companies.
Temporary Work Visa
This allows an individual or the employee of an organisation with no presence in Saudi Arabia to perform temporary work for clients in the country, for 30 or 90 days. The procedure to obtain the Temporary Work Visa is similar to that for an Employment Visa.
Group Employment Visa
Also known as a ‘block visa’, this visa allows a Saudi employer to process multiple visas at the same time, without having to identify the prospective employees. When the application is approved, the required number of visas are issued and other documentary requirements are forwarded to the relevant Saudi Consulates.
Seasonal Employment Visa
This visa is designed for Muslims and non-Muslims coming to Saudi Arabia for work related to the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage season. To obtain a visa the Saudi sponsor applies to the Ministry of Labour. Once approval is given, the prospective employee will be required to present to the local YaseenOverseas :
- Valid employment contract
- An attestation that the worker is coming to Saudi Arabia for work and not for the Hajj
Applying for an Employment Visa
For a prospective employee to obtain an Employment Visa, they must have:
- Professional skills or academic qualifications that are lacking or unavailable in Saudi Arabia
- An employment contract with a Saudi citizen, a Saudi company or a foreign organisation licensed to do business in the country
Given that there is currently a drive towards ‘Saudization’ of organisations, employers have to prove to the Saudi government there are no Saudi citizens available to fill the position in question.
Employment for women is restricted to a limited number of professions – mainly in the education, healthcare and domestic help sectors.
- Original passport: valid for the duration of the employment contract with a minimum of two consecutive blank pages
- Three colour passport photographs
- Copy of the employment contract: signed by both the employee and the sponsor (employer)
- Letter from the sponsor (usually the employer), certified by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the number and date of the visa, as well as the name of the applicant and the job title
- Copy of a degree or diploma received by the foreign employee, certified and notarised by the relevant organisation in the home country as well as the consulate of Saudi Arabia in that country
- Police report detailing any criminal records held by the applicant, which must be issued within six months of the application
- Notification of the number of the Employment Visa applied for by the sponsor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia and its date of issue
- Application fee: this should be paid by the employer, but if it is required to arrange this personally, check how it should be made in the country of origin with the employer.
These documents can be directly submitted to the Saudi consulates, but it is often faster, and more common, to go through an agency nominated by the employer to handle the application.
Issuing of the entry visa can take from only a few days (in the UK, for example) or up to two months in the US and Canada.
Once the employee arrives in Saudi Arabia, before being legally entitled to start work, the sponsor must apply for a Residency Permit (Iqama) from the Ministry of the Interior’s Directorate General for Passports (in Arabic). In practice, employees normally start working soon after arriving, and are issued with an Iqama card after two or three weeks. However, applications can take up to several months, but the Iqama must be obtained before the expiry of the Employment Visa.
In addition to the documentation required for an entry visa, an additional medical report showing that the employee is free of contagious diseases is normally required for work and residence permits.
Applying for Residency for Families
Once the Iqama has been issued, a male employee may apply for a residency visa (Istiqdam) for his wife and children. However, a female employee may only apply for residency for dependent children. In both cases, the employee in effect becomes the sponsor for their family. It is not possible to apply for an Iqama for a spouse and children prior to arriving in the country. In practice, male employees normally arrive in Saudi Arabia first and make visa and other arrangements for other family members. An employer will normally assist with these applications.
Only employees whose job requires a university degree (that is, supervisory or managerial professions) are eligible to bring family members to Saudi Arabia, either temporarily or for residency.
Legal and Visa Restrictions
In the event of a legal dispute, a foreign national living and working in Saudi Arabia may be prevented from leaving the country until the issue is solved. Saudi sponsors have substantial leverage in any dispute and may ban departure or future employment in the country. Therefore, it is important for an employee to think carefully before entering into a dispute with an employer. There have been cases where employees whose jobs have been terminated were stuck in the country due to an unresolved legal dispute, and could not leave as the employer refused to issue the final Exit Visa.
Foreigners in Saudi Arabia who overstay a visa face a fine or up to SR10,000, or even imprisonment, before being deported. It is important that care should be taken not to miss the date of expiration, as the length of stay may not necessarily be the same as the validity date of the visa itself.
Also, dates of official business and documents such as visas are given from the Islamic calendar, which is approximately 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar
If approval is given by a current sponsor or employer, sponsorship can be transferred to a new employer. While it is not uncommon for employees to switch jobs, approval for transfer depends upon the employee’s relationship with the employer and can be withheld in the event of a dispute or a potential move to a competitor.
Female Employees in Saudi Arabia
It is possible for a single woman (over the age of 27) to arrive alone for work in Saudi Arabia, but they will need to be met by their sponsor (or agent of the sponsor) when arriving in the country. For women arriving unaccompanied for residency with their husband, they need to be met by their husband, or the sponsor.
Also, there must be confirmed accommodation for the full length of the intended stay in the kingdom. In practice, accommodation is almost always arranged in advance for women working either temporarily or long-term in Saudi Arabia.
Men and women are allowed to arrive or travel together in Saudi Arabia only if they are either married (with an official marriage licence), or are members of a larger group. Men and women travelling together without these conditions being met can face a fine or imprisonment, prior to deportation.