A brief description of corporate immigration categories by assignment type follows. The appropriate immigration category or status for your employees will depend on their specific details and on your company. The most common category for corporate transfers in our experience is the Work and Residence Permit. For details on non-typical categories not listed below (investors, special programs), please contact your representative.
- Work and Residence Permits (Iqama): for local hires and assignments with a duration of more than six (6) months
- (Short Term Work Assignments: for assignment with a duration not exceeding three (3) to six (6) months
The following process overview is applicable to the Work and Residence Permit application process. Approximate overall processing time from the time the first step is submitted to the time the employee is legal to work in Saudi Arabia is six (6) to nine (9) weeks. However, note that lead time for document gathering at the start of the process should be factored in, as should processing time for completion of post arrival formalities. In Saudi Arabia, the document gathering stage of the process is particularly labor intensive, as many documents must be legalized and translated. We can assist with this if required. See the “Application Materials” section below for further details. Average processing time for each individual step is noted below.
Step One: Block Visa Pre-Approval
Processing Time: Approximately one (1) to three (3) months
The Saudi Arabia Company who offers employment to the applicant must apply for the Work Authorization at the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior, who will instruct the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have Saudi Embassy issue the required visa. The applicant will be provided with a reference number.
Step Two: E-Wakala Application
Processing Time: Approximately five (5) to six (6) working days
Once we obtain Block visa approval, the application for E-Wakala can be submitted. The E-Wakala is generally issued with a validity of one (1) month.
Step Three: First Medical Check-Up in Home Country
Processing Time: Approximately two (2) to three (3) working days
Before applying for a Work visa the applicant should undergo a medical examination and receive written record confirmation that he or she is in good health. Specific test must be taken.
Step Four: Work Visa
Processing Time: Approximately seven (7) to fifteen (15) working days
The application for a Work Visa is to be filed at the jurisdictional Mission of Saudi Arabia in the home country. Nationals other than Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States must obtain a visa before their arrival to Saudi Arabia.
Step Five: Second Medical Check-Up
Processing Time: Approximately two (2) to three (3) working days
The Immigration Authorities in Saudi Arabia may request that the Foreigner undergo an additional Medical Check upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Step Six: Iqama (Residence Permit) and Work Card
Processing Time: Approximately one (1) week
Licensed officer must submit application for Work Permit and Iqama (Residence Permit) to the Ministry of Labour within ninety (90) days of Foreigner’s arrival in Saudi Arabia. Ministry of Labour will forward the application to Ministry of Interior for the issuance of required Residence Permit. NOTE: Health Insurance is mandatory.
Step Seven: Exit/Re-Entry Permit
Processing Time: Approximately one (1) week
Upon issuance of Iqama, an application needs to be made for Exit/Re-Entry Permit at the Ministry of Interior so that the assignee may exit and re-enter Saudi Arabia during the validity of Work Permit and Iqama. Type of entry (Single, Double & Multiple) and length depends upon nationality and profession. Once this type of visa is obtained it has to be used within given validity, otherwise company will pay a penalty.
Following the Work and Residence Permit application process described above will result in the obtention of the following immigration documents. Typical validity is noted next to each document name. For details on the renewal process, please see the next section, “Renewal.”
- Work and Residence Permit (Iqama): Generally valid for duration of one year to maximum of two years.
Renewal is possible. Renewal processes take approximately thirty (30) to ninety (90) days; please allow two (2) weeks’ lead time for document gathering.
To ensure that assignees leave Saudi Arabia after the expiration of their permission to stay and to keep tabs on the number of foreign workers in the country, the government of Saudi Arabia requires all applicants to complete the following deregistration process upon departing the country:
Foreign workers are required to obtain a final exit visa, which will be stamped in their passports (separate piece of paper stapled to the passports) and will allow them to leave the Kingdom.
If an expatriate leaves the Kingdom for good on an exit / re-entry visa, rather than with a final exit visa, they may not be allowed to apply for a Saudi visa in the future.
A final exit visa is arranged for by the sponsor (employer) and it is given to all the family members of an employed foreigner. It usually takes three (3) to five (5) days to arrange; however, the processing time depends on many factors, including:
- Termination notice
- Work agreement
- Unpaid traffic fines
- Unpaid utilities, bills, etc.
All unpaid traffic fines, electricity bills, phone bills, etc. have to be paid well in advance of the applicant’s scheduled departure; otherwise, the applicant will not be allowed to leave the Kingdom.
Dependent immigration status approval depends on the immigration status of the principal applicant. Where the principal applicant is in Saudi Arabia on a Work and Residence Permit, the following rules apply for dependents:
- Minimum age (spouses): Not Applicable
- Maximum age (children): Eighteen (18)
- Unmarried partners: No
- Same sex partners: No
- Non-traditional dependents (e.g. parents): No
- Work authorization granted? No
Application materials vary depending on the immigration category being applied for and on the specifics of the case. We will advise you in detail regarding your specific case; however, general application materials for Work and Residence Permits are noted below.
- Personal documents include: original diploma (which must be translated into Arabic and certified/legalized).
- Corporate documents include: Company Registration (CR) Document, company stamp, Zakat Certificate, GOSI certificate. Chamber of Commerce Certificate, KROKI Certificate, NITAQAT statement, etc.
- Note that the above mentioned documents are examples of what will be required and that additional documentation will certainly be necessary.
- Name of visa granted: Business Visa
- Duration of stay: Thirty (30) days from entry
- General activities permitted:
- Attend business meetings, negotiations, exchange programs, conferences, seminars, congresses and workshops on trade and economic questions
- Attend auctions, exhibitions, shows and other events commercial in nature
- Assemble and maintain equipment imported into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (duties technical in nature)
A Business Visa must be obtained before arrival to Saudi Arabia and can only be arranged by the host company through immigration authority. Business Visas are valid for single/multiple entry and generally for up to thirty (30), ninety (90), or (180) days. In some cases the validity period may be longer. The duration of continuous stay is usually limited to thirty (30) days on each entry. After that time, the holder is obliged to leave the Kingdom. As of January 2016, U.S. nationals will get a five (5) year business visa automatically. Every time they enter into the KSA the maximum duration of each stay will be 180 days.
Nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UAE) states may enter Saudi Arabia without obtaining a Saudi visa for unrestricted period of stay.
It is not possible to change visa status while in Saudi Arabia.
Salary and payroll requirements vary depending on the immigration category and on the specifics of the case. In Saudi Arabia, there are minimum salary requirements in place. Additionally, foreign workers are required to be enrolled in the local payroll system in Saudi Arabia, and there must be a local employment contract in place.
Qualification requirements will vary from case to case and will depend on the immigration category under which the application is made. However, in general, the immigration authorities do expect to see a university level degree related to the proposed job title. In some situations, a strong case may be made for applicants without a degree provided their level of experience and industry specific qualification is high. Please contact your representative for more details.
In our experience, the following points are important to note at the start of the process. If any of the below situations apply to you, contact your representative immediately for further detailed advice.
The assignee beyond sixty (60) years can not apply for Work Visa
- Restricted entry applies to holders of an Israeli passport or passports with Israeli stamps in them.
- Gender restrictions apply, and it may be difficult for female foreign nationals to enter Saudi Arabia unless accompanied by a male colleague or blood relative.
- Visitors not complying with Saudi conventions of dress and behaviour, including those who appear to be in a state of intoxication, will be refused entry. Visitors to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must abide by the country’s Islamic laws and regulations and respect its society’s values and traditions.
- The applicant must demonstrate that he or she has professional experience that is directly relevant to the proposed position
- The foreigner must have a contract with a Saudi employer or a non-Saudi employer authorized to do business in the Kingdom.
- Iqamas for work purpose are only granted to employees with Saudi contracts and on Saudi payroll.
- The sponsoring company must be registered in Saudi Arabia as a company in good corporate standing and have a valid commercial license to do business.
- The foreign employee may not leave the current position with his employer unless the approval of the current employer is obtained to transfer sponsorship to the prospective new employer.
- Foreign documents such as diplomas, marriage certificates, and birth certificates must be legalized for use in Saudi Arabia – legalized through Saudi Embassy – and translated into Arabic Language.
- Licensed officer or authorized representative is allowed to submit and collect all documents to/from immigration office.
- Residents, except for sponsored family members, require an exit visa. Exit visas are granted based on sponsor permission and guarantee letter.
- There are certain criteria which decide on how quickly and what type of visa will be given, for example: nationality, gender, position, educational background, range of duties, etc.
- Penalties for Non-Compliance
The government of Saudi Arabia takes immigration non-compliance very seriously. Penalties for non-compliance may include fines, deportation, and imprisonment. For specific details of penalties, please contact your representative.
Individuals not carrying an Iqama may be fined up to SAR 10,000. Individuals found to be working in Saudi Arabia illegally may be immediately arrested and deported in short order.
Penalties for companies found employing foreigners without the proper permits include a fine of up to SAT 100,000, revocation of the company’s license to trade, or both.
For more details, please contact your representative.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Nationals from the other members of the GCC – currently, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, as well as the UAE – do not require work permits for the UAE.
The material in this document is confidential and a protected trade secret of Emigra Worldwide. In the course of delivering service to our clients and channel partners, our organization may elect to share this material in accordance with confidentiality terms of its service agreements or other contracts with said clients and partners, or in accordance with general intellectual property laws of the nation in which the material is received. All rights are reserved. The reproduction, redistribution or any other promulgation of this material, in whole or in part, without the written permission of an authorized officer of Emigra Worldwide is prohibited. All copies of this material must be returned upon request. The information contained in this document is correct as of the date of issue noted above. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and completeness throughout this document, we cannot and will not be held responsible for damage caused by errors, and/or omissions or otherwise caused by using and/or relying solely on the information contained herein. Please note that immigration regulations and requirements can change without advance notice and as such we cannot guarantee that the information contained within this document is 100% error free.
Last review: March 2016