At a Glance
- Immigration authorities in Saudi Arabia have unexpectedly replaced Work Visit and Commercial Visit Visas with a uniform Visit Visa for Business, which states "not permitted to work" on the visa sticker.
- As a result, foreign nationals are unable to obtain short-term work authorization in Saudi Arabia at this time, as the only method for doing so was through a Work Visit Visa.
- It is unclear what, if any, impact there is on current Work Visit Visas holders whose visa was issued before the regulation came into effect.
- Fragomen is discussing the impact of the change and potential solutions for short-term work with Saudi consular authorities and relevant ministries to determine, among other issues, which activities are permissible and prohibited under the uniform Visit Visa for Business.
Immigration authorities in Saudi Arabia unexpectedly replaced Work Visit and Commercial Visit Visas with a uniform Visit Visa for Business.
A closer look
Details of the decision include the following:
- Change in practice. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' electronic system, which is used by visa sponsors to obtain mandatory visa invitation letters, continues to allow applicants to choose between Work Visit and Commercial Visit Visas (this is likely to change when the portal is updated). However, despite having a visa invitation letter for a Work Visit Visa, applicants are being issued a Visit Visa for Business which states "not permitted to work", as shown below:
This wording appears to be consistent across all Saudi consular posts and visa service centers across the world.
- No formal notification by authorities. Saudi immigration and labor authorities have not issued any formal notification stating that Work Visit Visas will no longer be issued, nor have they announced the introduction of a new short-term work authorization to replace the visa.
By eliminating Work Visit Visas, Saudi immigration authorities have effectively removed the only option available to foreign nationals traveling to Saudi Arabia for short-term work.
Foreign nationals seeking to work in Saudi Arabia will instead need to obtain a standard Work Visa, which triggers a formal long-term employment relationship with a sponsoring company in Saudi Arabia.
Those seeking to work for a short-term period without a long-term employment relationship with a sponsoring employer can also obtain a Business Visa and limit their activities to ensure that no "hands-on" work is conducted.
The impact on current Work Visit Visas holders whose visa was issued before the regulation came into effect is unclear at this time.
- Short-term work under Work Visit Visas. Work Visit Visas were previously granted to foreign nationals engaging in technical, hands-on activities for periods between three months and five years, with a maximum stay of 30 or 90 days. Foreign nationals were generally able to start working in 10 to 20 calendar days from when the Work Visit Visa process was initiated, as compared to approximately 40 to 190 days for a standard long-term Work Visa.
- Introduction of Tourist Visa. The elimination of the Work Visit Visa comes shortly after Saudi Arabia introduced its first Visit Visa for Tourism, which allows foreign nationals to obtain a one-year multiple entry visa for tourism stays of up to 90 days.
Fragomen is actively monitoring the situation and discussing the impact of the change and potential solutions with Saudi consular authorities and ministries involved in the visa issuance process for Saudi Arabia.
More information is expected soon on:
- Which activities are permissible and prohibited under the uniform Visit Visa for Business;
- Whether visitors can conduct hands-on technical activities or if they are limited to performing "light" business activities only, such as meetings; and
- Whether Saudi immigration and labour authorities have made any provisions for foreign nationals seeking short-term work in the country, considering that the Work Visit Visas are no longer available.
An updated alert will be issued when more information becomes available.
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