As the world’s largest oil producer Saudi Arabia has long been a magnet for hard-working expats. That said, like many of the Gulf nations, Saudi Arabia has struggled in the past with this expat population, ensuring that they are carefully regulated. Illegal workers are a perennial problem here with whom the government seems to be in a constant battle.
The world of expat employment in the Middle East seems to be in a constant flux, with new policies being introduced at break-neck speed in order to balance the pros and cons of their millions of expat workers as smoothly as possible.
The latest news from the Kingdom is that as from next year, Saudi Arabia will begin issuing ID cards to expats, which will take the place of the original residence visa. The introduction of identity cards, it is hoped, will make it easier to track expats and to reduce illegal workers. Furthermore government officers will be able to check the authenticity of an expats’ work visa easily.
As a result, it is hoped that more work will be available for legitimate (and essential) expat workers, while those filling positions without a work visa – or remaining after it has expired – will then be encouraged to leave the country.
The government claims that these cards will begin to roll out from the beginning of 2016, and existing residence visas will be progressively replaced with the new ID cards. The cards, when issued to new arrivals, will permit five years of residency, though this can be “automatically extended for one or two years”. As yet, no information has been released on how this extension may work in practise.
In further news, it is not uncommon for expats in Saudi Arabia to take a “leave of absence” from their employer in order to travel home to see family and friends. In the past, however, problems have occurred when these expat workers failed to return when agreed. This has led to problems with staffing in many of the oil refineries to be found here.
A further new policy is designed to curb this situation by banning expat workers from entry for up to three years if they fail to return to their employer within the agreed time period. This will, the government hopes, increase the efficiency of oil production and penalize less reliable workers. It is also likely to open up new opportunities for expats willing to adhere to Saudi Arabia’s employment guidelines.