Immigration & Work Permits

Foreign workers are required to have the proper visas and work permits in Saudi Arabia, as established by immigration laws.  Work permits must be secured for employees, and sponsored by a locally licensed and incorporated entity, which can be a problem for companies just entering the Saudi Arabian market.

A work visa is sponsored by an employer. This can be a Saudi company, a Saudi citizen or a foriegn entity appropriately licensed to do business in Saudi Arabia.

Processing Steps

  • The employer must first register with the Ministry of Interior who will open an “immigration file”. This will contain details of all expatriate employees with that employer. The sponsoring employer must be registered in Saudi Arabia and hold a valid commercial license. The employer may be asked to submit a variety of documents listed below. The employer will likely be asked to show a commitment to “Saudization” which is to prove that there are no Saudi citizens available to fill the position, and that the employer is taking steps to employ Saudi citizens where possible.
  • The employer then lodges a work visa application with the Ministry of Labor. This can take 1-3 months.
  • The Ministry of Labor will advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when the application is approved. The Ministry of Foreign affairs will issue a Visa Authorisation Number. This takes 1-2 weeks.
  • The actual Work Visa is issued by the relevant Saudi embassy under the instruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At this point the employee will have to apply at the relevant Saudi Arabian embassy. The employee must submit an application form and the documents outlined below to the embassy. Processing times vary by embassy but generally 1-3 weeks. After the embassy issues the Work / Employment visa, the individual can travel to Saudi Arabia. The Work / Employment visa will allow a stay of between 14-90 days.
  • On arrival an application must be filed with the Ministry of Labor for the Iqama or residency permit. Once approved by Ministry of Labor it will be forwarded to Ministry of Interior to issue the Iqama or residency permit. The Directorate General for Passports, within the Ministry of Interior, will issue the Iqama. The employer will need to obtain the work permit from the Ministry of Labor, the employee to show at the passport office when applying for the Iqama. The Iqama normally takes 1-3 weeks to be issued. The employee should carry the Iqama with them at all times as it proves they have the legal right to live and work in Saudi Arabia. The employee can be fined if the Iqama is lost and not reported lost, or if it expires before renewal.
  • Lastly after the Iqama is issued then an application is lodged with the Ministry of Interior for an Exit/Re-Entry Permit which allows the employee to travel in and out of Saudi Arabia whilst they have a valid Work Permit and Iqama. The length of permit and type will depend on a number of factors including the nationality and profession of the employee. It takes approximately 1 week to issue.

Requirements for the Employee to present at the relevant Saudi Arabian embassy:

– Original valid signed employment contract in Arabic

– Original passport valid for at least the duration of the employment contract and it must have at least two full blank adjacent visa pages. (note if an Israeli visa stamp is found in your passport, the Saudi embassy will likely refuse to grant a visa application)
– Medical certificate stating the applicant is free of contagious diseases. This should be issued by a clinic approved by the Saudi Embassy and be issued within 3 months of the application being lodged.

– Completed application form (BLOCK LETTERS and black ink)

– In order to transfer from one employer to another, a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the previous employer is required.

– If previously worked in Saudi Arabia a copy of the relevant exit visa and a reference from the previous employer may be required
– Copy of relevant academic qualifications (notarized by the educational institution and the Saudi embassy)

– Color passport photos. The number required varies by embassy. (it is advised to dress conservatively and avoid wearing religious symbols)

– Original support letter from the sponsoring employer, certified by the Saudi Arabian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

– Copy of the invitation letter issued by Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (this will reference the employer name, and the number of the employment visa)

– Police clearance dated within 6 months of the application


Requirements of the Employer to submit to Ministry of Interior:

– Company Registration (CR)

– Company Stamp

– Zakat Certificate

– GOSI Certificate

– Chamber of Commerce Certificate

– KROKI Certificate

– NITAQAT statement

NB: This is not an exhaustive list and the Ministry may request further documentation

Cost: Varies according to embassy
Processing time: Varies by embassy and nationality. Total process takes 3-5 months for a new employer.


Types of visas in Saudi Arabia

CategoryDescription of Visa
Business Visit VisaBusiness visa is to conduct limited business transactions with a sponsor (Saudi person or company). Theoretically this is restricted to activities like conducting negotiations or holding business meetings. The business visa is commonly used by individuals providing short term or intermittent services like technical services or management consulting and the Saudi authorities have tolerated that. With the advent of the temporary visa work visa this may change.
Requirements: An original signed Letter of Invitation (LOI) is generally required from the Saudi sponsor (company or individual). It may also be necessary to supply additional documents such as a support letter from the persons current employer or a copy of the company’s business registration.
Processing time: 3-7 business days
Cost: Varies by embassy and number of entries. Please contact us for a quote.
Work VisaWork Visas are issued through the Ministry of Labor
A Residence permit is also required and issued by the Ministry of the Interior’s Directorate General for Passports.
The actual Work Visa is issued by the relevant Saudi embassy under the instruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Requirements: Must be sponsored by a Saudi employer. In order to transfer from one employer to another, a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the previous employer is required.
– valid employment contract in Arabic
– medical reports
– degree or educational qualifications
Cost: varies by embassy
Processing time: 2-3 months
Penalties for non-compliance: If a company is found to be employing foreigners without the proper work permits and visas it can be fined up to SAR 100,000 and have its license to trade revoked. Individuals who are working in Saudi Arabia without an Iqama can be fined up to SAR 10,000 and immediately arrested and deported.
Temporary Work VisaThis is a recent addition which allows employees of a foreign entity to do temporary work in Saudi Arabia. The foreign entity cannot have a presence in Saudi Arabia.
Duration : 30 or 90 days
Application process : It is understood to be similar to the process for issuing a Work / Employment Visa

Work Permit in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has long provided attractive incentives to foreign investors, which has resulted in the vast majority of inhabitants being foreign nationals. In fact, 78% of employed individuals in Saudi Arabia are foreign hires. Iqamas helps to manage these foreign hires in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Here is what you need to know about the Saudi Arabia iqama.

  1. Apply for Block Visa
  2. Visa Authorization and Power of Attorney
  3. Work Visa Application
  4. Enter and Start Working in Saudi Arabia
  5. Work Permit and Iqama Application
  6. Duration of Work Visa and Iqama
  7. Fees for the Saudi Arabia Iqama

Apply for Block Visa

The sponsoring employer has to first apply for and receive Block Visa approval from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. These are quotas that the Ministry of Labor and Social Development issues that allow local employers to sponsor foreign hires for the purpose of long-term work. They are granted based on various factors, including:

The applicant’s nationality

The applicant’s country of origin

The precise job role

Visa Authorization and Power of Attorney

Once approval is obtained, the sponsoring employer must then request the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to provide a visa authorization number and power of attorney, which let the employer apply for a work visa on the workers’ behalf.


Work Visa Application

Next, the employer submits an application for a work visa. The employee must undergo a medical exam and provide a medical certificate that accompanies the application.

Enter and Start Working in Saudi Arabia

Once the employee’s work visa is approved, he or she can enter Saudi Arabia and begin working for the sponsor.


Work Permit and Iqama Application

However, an application for a work permit and iqama must be submitted to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development within 90 days of the worker’s arrival. Additionally, if the employee will need to leave the country at any time during the period of their iqama, they will need to obtain an exit and re-entry permit from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.


Duration of Work Visa and Iqama

Saudi Arabian law dictates that foreign hires only be employed for a fixed term that is based on their iqama and work permit. Private sector employees can only have a work visa that lasts for one year, but it may be possible to renew it to extend the duration.


Fees for the Saudi Arabia Iqama

The local employer is responsible for all fees involved in obtaining the iqama and work permit. Additionally, the employer can be required to pay repatriation ticket fees if the sponsored employee stops working for the company.

The Saudi Arabian government imposes an expat levy on foreign residents, but the law does not specify whether the worker or employer should pay this fee, so this is up to the individual contract terms. As of July 1, 2020, the expat levy is SAR 800 per month, per worker and SAR 400 per month, per dependent. This fee may be motivated by the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy, support smaller businesses, and develop opportunities for locals.