SAUDI ARABIA – Recent Changes to Work Visas, Block Visas and Nitaqat
The Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD) has recently made several significant changes to its rules for issuing block visas and work visas, and to the “Nitaqat” Saudization system.
The MLSD has reversed its October 2017 decision to reduce the validity period of block visas from two years to one year. Effective immediately, employers once more have two years to complete the consular process to hire an employee from abroad.
What Are Block Visas?
Block visas are the primary basis by which qualifying 2companies bring foreign workers to the Kingdom. Under the scheme, employers receive a pre-approved “block” of visas to hire foreign workers. With these recent changes, employers will now have just one-year for each block visa in which to recruit and hire workers and then apply for work visas at the Saudi overseas consular posts in the workers’ home country. Block visas are available to companies rated platinum or green in the Nitaqat system.
Compensatory Block Visas
A new “compensatory” or “replacement” block visa scheme has been launched, allowing qualifying employers in the platinum and green (high, medium and low) Nitaqat categories to replace an employee within six months of them leaving Saudi. However, the visa cannot be granted if it will push the company’s Nitaqat rating to yellow. Additionally, all legal licenses must be valid at the time of claiming the compensatory visa through the Ministry of Labour.
Employee onboarding or releasing will now take immediate effect on a company’s Nitaqat rating. Previously, it took 26 weeks for employee onboarding to have a positive or negative effect on a company’s Nitaqat rating. The longer waiting period was beneficial for larger establishments but smaller establishments who had to increase their ratings had to wait longer for their rating to increase and to receive their block visas. The updates are valid for companies which are in the platinum and green Nitaqat classifications and for the last 13 weeks have maintained at least a green Nitaqat rating.
What is Nitaqat?
The Saudization system (Nitaqat) is complex, with companies grouped by industry sector and company size, then ranked into six categories (Premium, High Green, Medium Green, Low Green, Yellow, and Red) of Saudization – the percentage of the company’s workforce that must consist of local workers.
The MLSD has also announced that it will issue new work visas for foreign nationals working in the private sector for two years instead of one, without additional fees. Employers can cancel old visas and apply for new visas if the visa requirements are still valid. In 2017, the ministry reduced work visa duration from two years to one year, for all except domestic workers and government workers.
Employers who may be affected are encouraged to contact their immigration specialist for case-specific advice.