Recent changes in immigration and work visa rules explained

By Angel Chan

DUBAI 5 May 2019: Immigration and work visa laws and regulations have changed dramatically in Saudi Arabia in recent months – and they continue to evolve.

Dubai Gazette had a chat with Haider Hussain, Senior Manager – Middle East & North Africa of immigration specialist firm Fragomen Worldwide, to bring some clarity as to what is happening the GCC’s largest workplace for immigrants.

Haider Hussain

Following are some of excerpts:

  1. Overview of the recent changes in the localisation requirements, eligibility and implementation

Saudi Arabia’s nationalisation and localisation programme is by far the most sophisticated in the region. It’s primary goal is simple: to ensure that the local population is at the forefront of available employment opportunities. Given that Saudi Arabia has the largest local population in the GCC, its need for nationalisation is also is the highest.

The programme, called ‘Nitaqat’, provides companies with nationalisation targets based on their industry sector. This allows the authorities to ensure that, if there are high numbers of skilled Saudi nationals available in a specific sector, the target for that sector is increased. Along with these targets, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MLSD) has also taken measures of localising specific job fields. The MLSD has been working to balance nationalisation efforts along with ensuring that foreign expertise continues to enter the Saudi workforce.

The first quarter of 2019 has seen significant changes in Saudi’s localisation requirements. These are mainly aimed to foster a more positive business environment by easing some immigration and labour regulations and procedures accompanied by giving additional incentives for companies to enter and develop the talent pool.

One thing worth highlighting about these changes are that many of them are more of a reversal of some of the aggressive localisation steps taken in 2017-2018. The summary of these changes can be seen in the below chart:

It’s important to note that these changes had been announced and now stand implemented by the newly appointed Minister of Labour, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al Rajhi, who understands the needs of the private sector and has a very distinguished business background. This includes his role as Chairman of the Board of Saudi Chambers, amongst other distinguished positions he holds. His appointment to Minister of Labour is a clear indication of the Saudi government’s interest to ensure the private sector thrives in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030.

  1. How these changes can impact HR and Mobility in Saudi Arabia

For the most part, these changes are having a positive impact on HR and mobility in Saudi Arabia. Some of the key improvements include shorter processing time for onboarding foreign talent due to ease in the quota eligibility and suspension of the labour market test (Taqat) portal.

The HR department of businesses can also ensure compliance by guaranteeing that job titles are amended on their employees’ residence permits when their roles/responsibilities or jobs changes due to job title amendments facility made available. In addition, it is expected to help the ministry to have the most up-to-date and accurate data of the workforce in Saudi Arabia, along with helping to regulate the labour market.

The reimbursement and waiver of the expat levy on foreign nationals for eligible businesses helps ease financial burden on the HR department and the local business. This specially impacts companies with high numbers of foreign national employees and as a result has been a topic of discussion for business since its announcement and implementation.

Furthermore, under the new quota replacement scheme for leavers, companies will no longer have to apply for a block visa quota every time a foreign worker leaves. Instead, the quota of leaver can be requested to be credited back to the firm’s quota helping HR ensure they can replace the leaver immediately if the relevant candidate is available.

Ultimately, the changes not only improve the representation of Saudi nationals in the private sector, but also help train the local population to be self-sufficient and meet the employment needs of some of the world’s largest organisations.

  1. Roadmap on how to incorporate these new changes in your existing policies

While the initiatives taken by the MLSD to ease mobility are positive, businesses and HR specialists still need to ensure that new moves to Saudi Arabia, along with maintenance of the existing population, is planned and relevant internal review procedures are in place. This will ensure compliance with the local labour and immigration regulations as well as meet the business objectives in a timely manner. To this point the below are best practices that business HR in Saudi Arabia should have in place to reap the benefits of these changes:

Dubai Gazette