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Saudi Arabia - Visas, Residency, Immigration & Documentation
It is essential for all foreign nationals to have a visa when they are travelling to Saudi Arabia, as without one they will not be allowed to enter the country. There are many different types of visa available; depending upon your reason for travelling and the length of time you intend to stay in the country. It is essential to establish which type of visa that you need before you apply as applying for the wrong visa can lead to the application being rejected.
For those who are travelling to the country for religious events there are Haj and Umrah visas. The numbers of these that are issued each year are limited, simply due to the large numbers of people who wish to visit. It is important to adhere to the dates which are issued on the visa as if you overstay you can be subject to fines and further delays before you can return to your home country.
It should also be noted that if you are rejected for a visa then it is not usually worth reapplying as it is unlikely that you will be reconsidered. The regulations are very strict and it is important that you adhere to all the requests for documentation and other evidence as without them it is unlikely that your application will be successful.
For those who are planning a short visit to Saudi Arabia it is possible to get a visitor visa, although not many of these are issued due to the limited tourist industry in the country. In order to get a visitor visa you need to be invited for a company or individual as they will be your sponsor and officially responsible for you during your visit. It is the sponsor who must apply for the visa on behalf of the visitor. Those who are simply visiting for a few days will find that the hotel will be able to act as the sponsor.
A residence visa and permit for those who wish to work in the country are available, although they can take several months to be issued and both the employer and the applicant will need to submit a great deal of paperwork. In order to apply you must have a formal job offer and a contract of employment. You cannot apply for either of these visas on speculation. In addition you must provide evidence of your professional and academic qualifications and undergo a medical examination. Once all of this information has been submitted and checked you can obtain a visa number so that your passport can be stamped with the visa. When you arrive in Saudi Arabia the visa can then be converted to a residence permit. It is possible when you arrive in the country you will be expected to undergo another medical examination. The permit you are issued with acts as your ID card and you must carry this with you at all times.
It is important to ensure that you have an exit/re-entry visa in case you need to leave the country for short periods of time once you have been issued with your residency. This is a stamp in the passport which temporarily withdraws residency. This involves further paperwork and it is advised that plans are made as far in advance as possible as these cannot be issued at the last minute. When your work is up you are issued with an exit visa that requires you surrender your residency permit. Multiple exit/re-entry visas are available for those whose work requires that they travel regularly. These are usually valid for six months and allow for problem free travelling. A request for an extension to the visa must be made by the sponsor in Saudi Arabia. This will be approved providing that the request is deemed to be for a genuine reason and the residency permit is still valid.
Those who need a visa for work in Saudi Arabia will be sponsored by their employer. This means that much of the bureaucracy involved will be dealt with by the company. Most large organisations have a member of staff whose job it is to deal with the paperwork and regulations surrounding foreign workers. They can help to deal with any queries you may have with your visa application. Large international organisations are more experienced with the regulations regarding foreign workers, so if the applicant needs assistance the new employer should be the first port of call.
You will need to provide the authorities with a certain number of documents when you make your application. This includes a passport which has at least six months left to run and a number of passport sized photographs. If you are married you will need to have a copy of your marriage certificate and birth certificates for all the members of the family who are travelling. The worker must have a certificate to prove that they have undergone a medical examination. This is to prove that they are in good health and do not have any sexually transmitted diseases.
Visa fees for those who are moving to the region for work are paid by the employer unless the applicant is to be employed by the government. The application must be submitted with a receipt for the visa fee and a small processing fee for the details. All applicants must have authorisation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia and the details received by the ministry must match exactly the details given by the applicant when applying for the visa. If the applicant has been previously employed in the region they must provide references from previous employers.
Visitors or workers that have an Israeli stamp in their passport or any visible connection with the country will not be allowed entry into the country. If you do need to travel to Israel for any reason it may be possible to ask the Israeli authorities to stamp a separate sheet of paper rather than the actual passport, so that your future travel is not limited in this way.
Among the visa options available is one for diplomatic or special travel. In order to obtain one of these visas the applicant needs to complete an application form and send it with the relevant fee and two passport sized photographs. The passport must have at least six months left to run and should also be sent with a letter from the relevant embassy or department to give the details of the visa required. The applicant must also submit details of the flight that is to be taken into the country including the place of arrival, date and time.
The basic businessman visa can be issued to those travelling for commercial reasons without a covering letter from the host company, providing the applicant can provide proof of their business credentials. Those who qualify in this category include owners and directors of companies or their representatives. Those who do not have proof of business credentials will need to have one supporting letter. The traveller should have a passport which has a minimum of six months left to run and a letter from the company that the businessman works for to confirm that the trip is necessary.
General business visas have similar requirements and letters from both the host company in Saudi Arabia and the company that the worker is employed by to confirm the details of the trip. The host company will also act as sponsor and deal with the initial paperwork on behalf of the visitor. It is possible for family members of workers to apply for visas for visits or residency. The applicants should submit their completed application forms to the embassy in their home country. As with the application for workers there must be a valid passport with a minimum of six months left to run. All those over the age of 15 must have a medical certificate which has been completed by an authorised medical practitioner.
When submitting your visa application you will need to consult the Saudi Arabian embassy or consulate in your home country to find out how and when to submit your documents. For example, if you are presenting documents in person in the UK, the Saudi Embassy is only open for such transactions between 9 am and 12 noon from Monday to Friday. An appointment is essential so it is better to call in advance to avoid disappointment.
The relevant application forms can be downloaded from the website of your local embassy or consulate, or you can request that they are sent out to you by post. Included with the form is all the information that you need for submitting your documentation. You need to be sure that the form you receive is for the right type of visa, as submitting on the wrong form can lead to long delays or the rejection of your application.
When a person is applying for residency in Saudi Arabia they must be in possession of a firm job offer from a company operating within the country. A residency permit will not be issued unless this is the case. It should also be noted that is residency permits are rarely issued when a person is already in the country on a short stay visa. Residency permits are normally issued when the individual is still in their home country.
When an individual is offered a job in Saudi Arabia and has a contract of employment, their employer must begin the immigration process by registering as the sponsor and applying for the necessary permits. Without a residency permit, a person is unable to live and work in Saudi Arabia. The sponsor needs to submit all the details of the vacancy to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to obtain authorisation to hire a foreign worker. When the individual applies for the permit the details they give for the vacancy must match exactly those provided by the employer, otherwise the request for the permit may be rejected.
In order to apply for a residency permit an individual must complete the relevant application form, which can be downloaded from the website of the Saudi Arabian embassy or consulate in your home country, though if you prefer one can be sent out in the post. Your application can be registered online and a payment reference given when you submit the relevant fee. You will also need to send in two passport photos and your passport must have at least six months left to run and at least two blank pages in it which face each other.
Those who are applying by post should include a pre-paid envelope for the return of the original documents, preferably with enough postage for a registered or recorded delivery. You should expect the return of your documents within one week of sending.
A medical certificate is necessary for all those travelling who are over the age of 15. The medical examination should be carried out by an approved medical professional and should include tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Some applicants may be required to undergo further medical examinations when they arrive in Saudi Arabia. If you are travelling with your family you will also need to send a copy of your marriage certificate and the birth certificates of any children who are also making the move.
These same requirements also apply to all family members who are travelling with the worker or for family members who wish to visit a foreign worker who is already working in the country. Visa fees are normally paid by the employer and much of the paperwork is dealt with by the employer also. For a work permit and residency visa an individual needs to allow a reasonable period of time for processing. Most applicants should allow a period of about two months for processing of their visa and it is very rare that this can be speeded up, even in an emergency. When you make your application the relevant embassy or consulate can give you an idea of current processing times. If you choose to visit the embassy in person to deliver your application and documents you should be aware that this can only be done at certain times, so you will need to make an appointment in advance.
A visa is valid from the day it is issued but the period of stay only begins when the individual arrives in Saudi Arabia. If the application is incomplete or incorrect in any way it will be rejected and depending upon the circumstances, it may mean that the applicant is not able to reapply, so it is advisable to check that all details are correct before the form is submitted.
Once the applicant has been approved and is living and working in Saudi Arabia, there are a few regulations that need to be observed. For example, those that need to travel in and out of the country will need to have entry and exit visas. The residency permit needs to be left in the care of the employer while the employee is travelling. Lost permits and passports must be reported immediately to the relevant authorities. If you do not report this immediately there are penalties. Replacement documents will only be issued with the same dates on them and will be stamped as a replacement.
All permits must be renewed before they expire, otherwise there are fines payable and you may be forced to return to your home country if you become a repeat offender. A worker’s permit will cover his spouse and children under the age of 18. Dependents over the age of 18 will need to make their own application for a residency permit.
The permit acts as an ID card and the worker must carry it with them at all times, as the authorities can request to see it at any time. Failure to comply can lead to heavy penalties. It is the duty of the worker to take care of the permit as it is their responsibility. It may be necessary for the worker to leave their passport in the care of the employer, so the permit will be the only official ID that the worker has to hand.
Dependents who travel on the worker’s permit are not permitted to work in Saudi Arabia, only to live there. They need their own work permit and permission from the relevant authorities. It is not possible for a worker who is sponsored by one company to change employers, as the sponsoring employer has spent time and money on bringing the foreign worker to the country, so the system is designed to protect their investment.
Without the residency permit it will be hard for an individual to arrange everyday essentials such as a tenancy, utilities and bank accounts. All landlords and businesses need to be assured that they are dealing with a person who has the legal right to live and work in the country. The law in Saudi Arabia is strict and penalties for those who break laws are severe.
Foreign citizens are very rarely granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. This is due to the strict limits placed on immigration in the country. For most people the only way to become a citizen is to marry a Saudi Arabian citizen, but this is no guarantee that citizenship status can be granted, particularly if the foreign national is not a Muslim. A person applying for citizenship will have to be prepared to give up their own nationality as dual nationality is not permitted in the country. Those who marry a Saudi citizen can later have their citizenship taken away if the marriage ends.
It is possible for the King of Saudi Arabia to offer citizenship status to a foreign born worker if they have lived and worked in the country for a long time and their service there is considered to be exceptional. It is possible for an employer who has a good foreign worker to offer them work and residence permits that are indefinite, but there will still be an issue when the worker retires and only employers with a great deal of influence will be able to ensure that this continues when the work stops. This is not the same as citizenship status and only gives the worker the right to live in the country.
The country has a recently established naturalisation law which allows expatriates to apply for citizenship. Citizenship can be granted after a vigourous assessment process, but there is a trial period which lasts for 10 years, during which the behaviour of the new citizen is monitored to ensure that they continue to be of good character. Those who make false statements in order to obtain citizenship are heavily fined and their applications are instantly rejected. Those who spend a great deal of time outside the country once they have obtained citizenship may also find that it can be withdrawn.
Applications are made to the Department of Immigration and they are assessed by a panel of 3 officials. The maximum number of points available is 33. 10 points are issued for a continuous stay in the country of 10 years, 13 points are issued for specialist skills which are needed by the country – those who have a doctorate get a full 13 points, 10 points are issued for those who have doctorate level degrees in sciences and 8 points are given for those who have a master’s degree – and the final 10 points are issued on the basis of the applicant having family relations in the country. Applications are only accepted from those who are aged 18 years and above.
Citizenship can only be applied for by those who have already spent 10 years working and living in the country and applicants must be living in the country when they make their application, with all the relevant visas and permits in place and valid. An applicant will also need to demonstrate a good level of proficiency in Arabic and most will require a reference from a local imam to show that they are of good character and that they have integrated well into the community. An applicant who is considered to be of unsound mind will not be considered for citizenship.
Those who have a child in Saudi Arabia should be aware that the child will take on the nationality of the parents and will not automatically be entitled to Saudi Arabian citizenship, unless one of the parents is a Saudi Arabian citizen. In this case the child can be given local nationality and claim a passport from that country.
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