Revisions to Block Visa and Work Visa Rules

March 12, 2019 | Saudi Arabia

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD) has revised certain rules related to block visas and work visas, as follows:

Block Visa Changes

  • Block visas are now valid for two years instead of one year. This is a reversal of the MLSD’s 2017 decision that changed block visa validity from two years to one year. Employers with block visa approval now have two years to sponsor a foreign employee.
  • The MLSD has introduced a new “compensatory” or “replacement” block visa program, under which eligible employers with platinum and green Nitaqat ratings may replace a departed employee within six months of their departure. The replacement will not be allowed if it will change the employer’s Nitaqat rating to yellow. The employer’s legal licenses must be valid when applying for the replacement visa.

Work Visa Changes

New work visas issued to private sector foreign nationals will now be valid for two years, up from one. No fee increase will apply for the longer validity period. This is also a reversal of the MLSD’s 2017 decision to reduce the work visa validity period from two years to one year for most categories of workers. Employers are permitted to cancel one-year visas and apply for a new two-year visa if the original visa requirements still apply.

Some Employers Eligible for Monthly Foreign Worker Fee Reimbursement or Waiver  

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MLSD), certain employers will now qualify for a waiver or reimbursement of the monthly fee they pay for each sponsored foreign worker. Employers generally pay the full annual fee up front at the start of the year.

Employers with a green or platinum Nitaqat rating over the past 52 weeks will qualify for a reimbursement if they have paid the annual fee, or a waiver if they have not paid yet. Employers with yellow and red Nitaqat ratings will qualify for a reimbursement if they raise their rating to low-green or higher within 12 months of February 7, 2019, the new program’s start date.

The foreign worker fee was instituted in January 2018 and has been criticized by many employers. The fee waiver will give employers the option to invest the savings in hiring more Saudi workers. This would in turn increase their Nitaqat ratings, allowing them to hire more foreign nationals.

Background

Block visas are required for an employer to sponsor foreign nationals for work authorization in Saudi Arabia. Qualifying employers (those rated platinum or green in the Nitaqat system) are approved for a “block” of visas to sponsor foreign workers.

The purpose of the Nitaqat system, implemented in 2011, is to encourage private sector employers to hire Saudi nationals. The Nitaqat rating is based on the employer’s Saudization level–a measurement of the number or percentage of Saudi employees in the employer’s workforce.