Saudi Arabia – “Saudization” brings major visa changes
Pro-Link GLOBAL's latest Global Brief covers Saudi Arabia and the "Saudization" policy which aims to increase employment rates among Saudi nationals.
“Saudization” and the Saudi labour marketWith over 90 per cent of the private sector jobs in Saudi Arabia currently filled by foreign labour, one might assume that the local Saudi labour pool was at full employment, thus the need for all those foreign workers. However, that assumption is not the reality. In recent years the unemployment rate among Saudi nationals has reached as high as 12 per cent. Policy makers in Saudi Arabia continue to debate the reasons for this unusual dichotomy – lower prices in the world oil market, demographics, cultural norms, education and job training, the high demand for temporary workers on construction projects, and the lower wages and poor working conditions of many private sector jobs – but the problem persists.This issue is precisely what has led the Saudi government in recent years to pursue its policy of “Saudization” of its workforce, the goal of which is to increase the percentage of private sector jobs held by Saudi citizens. It then goes without saying that this necessarily involves decreasing the number of foreign nationals working in the Kingdom. However, striking the right balance between the needs of local workers and the demands of Saudi companies for foreign labour has proven an elusive goal, leading to multiple permutations of “Saudization” in their labour and immigration policy. Several recent immigration changes are part of this continuing effort.
New, more extensive labour market-testing requirementsOn 1 August the Ministry of Labour (MOL) introduced its new Taqat online national labour portal and database of available jobs. The stated goal of Taqat is to “offer and facilitate employment and training services, efficiently and effectively, to further sustain and develop the labour force.” As of this writing, the Taqat website now lists over 1,500 available employment postings. This is obviously welcomed news to Saudi job seekers. However, in a major step beyond simple job advertising, the MOL is now requiring Saudi employers to first post all available job positions on Taqat before applying for any new block visas for foreign workers.The “block visa” scheme is the principle route that Saudi employers take to meet their needs for foreign workers. Under the scheme, employers receive a pre-approval through the MOL for several (a “block” of) positions for which they need foreign labour. After approval of the block visa, applications for work visas are in turn submitted at the Saudi Embassy or Consulate in the job applicant’s country of residence. It now typically takes three to four months from the time that the block visa application is filed until the foreign employee receives his individual work visa and arrives in Saudi Arabia ready for work. With the addition of employers having to first post the job on Taqat in order to show an effort to recruit a local worker, this process is lengthened. The length of time the position is posted on Taqat and time spent considering the resulting local applicants now increases the overall timeframe before employers can have a foreign national begin work. The MOL has yet to publish guidelines for employers specifying how long a position must be posted on Taqat and what efforts must be made to review local applicants. However, employers at a minimum should be prepared now as part of the block visa process to show documentation of the Taqat position posting, the length of time it was posted, the number and qualifications of any local applicants for the position, and the reasons why the candidates were found unsuitable.
Increased visa application feesAlso announced by the Saudi Cabinet this month were the following new higher visa fees:
- Single-entry visit visa fee of SAR 2,000
- Six-month multiple-entry visit visa fee of SAR 3,000
- One-year multiple-entry visit visa fee of SAR 5,000
- Two-year multiple-entry visit visa fee of SAR 8,000
- Single two-month exit re-entry visa fee of SAR 200 (+SAR 100 for each additional month)
- Multiple-entry three-month exit re-entry visa fee of 500 (+SAR 200 for each additional month)
- Transit visa fee of SAR 300
- Departure visa fee at seaports of SAR 50