Saudi Arabia Visa
Saudi Arabia allows plenty of foreign workers into its territory, but almost exclusively on a temporary basis.Expatriates aren’t generally allowed to become part of the permanent population. Foreign workers are dealt with in a fair but controlled way, paid and treated well, and at the end of their time in the region, thanked and rewarded for their efforts. On the other hand, the government is conscious of the need to provide decent jobs with career paths for their own young people, who are increasingly educated and aware of the attractions of the outside world – many have attended universities in the USA or UK. Having made major investments in education and social welfare, they hope that eventually Saudi Arabia will become almost self-sufficient in terms of labour.
A majority of outside observers, however, believe that expatriates will have a substantial role to play for many years to come, and it seems likely that expatriates will continue to be important for the next two or three decades, although there will undoubtedly be changes in the number of people employed and the type of skills required. For example, the vast construction projects currently found throughout the region (e.g. road systems, airports, ports and trading zones) will become less numerous, with a resulting decline in the number of manual workers required. Commercial development, however, will lead to further building programmes as Saudi Arabia’s economy continues to grow.
Managerial, professional and particularly technological experience will still be in strong demand for many years to come. But there will be none of the mass immigration and resulting demands for citizenship that have been experienced in western societies, or the current trend of economic refugees looking for a better way of life. Saudi Arabia will simply not allow it. Foreigners cannot become citizens or own land and property, although there appears to be some lessening of the restrictions, certainly as regards owning one’s own business.
You should ideally have a firm offer of employment before travelling to Saudi Arabia. Speculative visits to secure employment are occasionally successful, but you need to be notably lucky and have high-grade qualifications and experience to stand any chance.
All foreigners require a local sponsor in order to visit Saudi Arabia (whether on holiday or business) or live and work there.
In the Gulf, a sponsor acts as a sort of guardian as well as guarantor and must undertake all administrative work (i.e. paperwork) on behalf of the foreigner, including applying for a work and residence visa, opening a bank account and signing a rental accommodation contract. A sponsor can be an individual, a company or an institution. In the case of employees, your employer usually also acts as your sponsor; visitors may be sponsored by a business partner or associate or by the hotel in which they’re staying.
The sponsorship system is an effective form of immigration control. As your sponsor is responsible for you and if you misbehave or contravene any regulations (which will also involve him in loss of ‘face’ in the community), he automatically checks that you’re reliable and trustworthy, as well as ensuring that you don’t inadvertently step out of line. For this reason, your sponsor is an important source of help and advice and a valuable ‘ally’.
Attempting to enter Saudi Arabia without authorisation is pointless. If you’re hoping to fly into the country, you won’t even get past the check-in desk. Similarly, if you arrive at one of the land borders, you will be turned back. Muslims find entry to the Kingdom much easier, the issue of visas for religious purposes (the Haj and Umrah visas) being a well-controlled, process. There are strict national quotas per country for these visas, which are issued annually, because the volume of people wishing to visit the holy places is enormous.
You must be careful with dates shown on Saudi visas, which conform to the Islamic ( Hijra) calendar. Overstaying your visa by even 24 hours can lead to fines and further delays.
There are no shortcuts that the individual himself can take with the immigration authorities and the rules applying to visas. Rejections and refusals can be permanent. Note also that, Saudi Arabia is the only Gulf state where passengers in transit, by air or land, also require a visa, known as a transit visa.
If you’re changing planes at a Saudi airport and therefore have no option but to temporarily stop in the country, a 24 or 48-hour transit visa is required. You must surrender your passport to the immigration authorities, who will return it on your departure. If you’re driving from Bahrain, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Jordan, you might be granted a seven-day transit visa. Those driving between Jordan, Yemen or Kuwait via the Kingdom are usually allowed a three-day transit visa. When crossing Saudi borders, it’s essential that your papers are in order and your travel plans are absolutely clear. Check the procedure with the Saudi embassy or consulate in your home country and seek permission from the destination country. Also be aware that, although transit regulations are written down, they’re occasionally open to local interpretation, particularly at border points.
At present, there’s no substantial tourist industry in Saudi Arabia, so few tourist visas are issued, although things are changing gradually and the intention is to build a limited tourist trade. To obtain a tourist visa, you must be invited by a company or individual (the higher his standing and influence the better) who will act as your sponsor and undertake responsibility for you during you stay. The sponsor applies for the visa on your behalf and obtains a serial number. You must then approach a Saudi embassy and obtain a visa stamp in your passport, for which there’s a small charge. Without the serial number, you cannot obtain a visa.
Although not officially sanctioned, it’s sometimes possible to have a visitor visa converted to a residence visa while you’re in the Kingdom. Strictly, you should return to your country of domicile to await the official process, but if your sponsor has sufficient influence, it is possible.
Note that it’s extremely difficult for young, single women to enter the country unless it’s clear that they’re closely related to expatriate workers. Business women will encounter serious obstacles to entry unless they’re members of a Saudi family or have the sponsorship of a powerful Saudi national.
Residence Visa & Permit
Obtaining a residence visa is a lengthy procedure – around a couple of months – with a considerable amount of paperwork on the part of the employer and individual. Having been given a contract of employment, you must present your contract, academic and/or professional qualifications and the results of a full medical examination, including HIV test either to the Saudi embassy or consulate in your home country or to the authorities in Saudi Arabia via your sponsor. You will then be issued with a visa number, with which you can proceed to a Saudi embassy or consulate to obtain a stamped residence visa, which will be converted to a residence permit after your arrival in the Kingdom (where you might be asked to do the medical again). Your residence permit (Iqama) includes your photograph and must be carried at all times, your passport having been retained by your sponsor.
Should you go on leave or undertake a business trip outside the Kingdom, your sponsor will obtain an exit/re-entry visa, which is a stamp in your passport, and temporarily withdraw your residence permit. Having completed your stay or contract, you’re issued with an exit-only stamp in your passport and are required to surrender the residence permit.
The requirement of an exit visa to leave Saudi Arabia while working there is a tedious restriction on your personal freedom and in an emergency can be problematic, if your sponsor isn’t readily available to process papers. Fortunately, this rarely happens and the sponsor often has a deputy authorised to sign for him.
If an expatriate holds a senior position in his company (e.g. Managing Director or General Manager), he might be able to obtain a multiple exit/re-entry visa, usually valid for six months. This visa allows easy passage in either direction but isn’t automatically renewable.