At a Glance
- Foreign nationals traveling to Saudi Arabia for business must now obtain a visa pre-approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before they submit a Business Visit Visa application.
- As the pre-approval process is expected to increase processing times for the Business Visit Visa application process, foreign nationals should take these delays into account when planning business travel.
Foreign nationals traveling to Saudi Arabia for business must now obtain a visa pre-approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) before they submit a Business Visit Visa application.
A closer look
Details of the new pre-approval process include the following:
- Pre-approval process. Foreign nationals should submit information on the MOFA website to obtain their pre-approval electronically.
- Prior process. Previously, most foreign nationals traveling for business to Saudi Arabia were required to obtain invitation letters prior to obtaining Commercial and Work Visit Visas, which are no longer available. The pre-approval process was only used for select categories of foreign nationals, including businesswomen and individuals sponsored by a government agency in Saudi Arabia.
- Processing times. It is expected that the new pre-approval process will increase overall processing times for the Business Visit Visa, but it is not yet clear by how many days.
- Eligibility. Business Visit Visas are available to investors, company owners, members of boards of directors, managers and other company representatives.
- Reminder on work restrictions. Unlike when entering Saudi Arabia under Work Visit Visa, foreign nationals on Business Visit Visas may only conduct limited business travel-related activities and must ensure that no "hands-on" work is conducted.
- Delays. Foreign nationals should consider potential processing delays when planning business travel to Saudi Arabia.
- Limited options available for business/short-term work. Foreign nationals traveling to Saudi Arabia for business who are not in the above eligibility categories or those seeking to conduct short-term work in Saudi Arabia should obtain a standard Work Visa, which requires a formal long-term employment relationship with a sponsoring company in Saudi Arabia until a new short-term work authorization option becomes available.
In October 2019, immigration authorities in Saudi Arabia made fundamental changes to the business visa scheme by replacing Commercial and Work Visit Visas with a uniform Business Visit Visa issued with the notification "not permitted to work".
Until now, the MOFA system continued to allow foreign nationals to opt for a visa invitation letter for either Commercial or Work Visit Visa, although it had no impact on a category of the visa that was endorsed (i.e. a Business Visit Visa was issued regardless of the type of supporting visa invitation letter). By eliminating Work Visit Visas, Saudi immigration authorities removed the only work authorization option available to foreign nationals traveling to Saudi Arabia for short-term work.
It is not yet clear whether Saudi immigration authorities will expand Business Visit Visa eligibility to foreign nationals with technical skills to compensate for the elimination of the Commercial and Work Visit Visas.
A new short-term work visa is expected to be introduced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in the coming months. Fragomen will provide updates as soon they are available.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.