Visas and Work Permits 8 min

Work permits and visas in Saudi Arabia: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman

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Saudi Arabia is undergoing massive employment and digitization. It's phasing out of a sponsorship system and improving the overall employment ecosystem with modifications to the Labor Code and an ambitious Vision 2030

The combination of rapid digitization and improved work conditions in Saudi Arabia prompts employers to consider how they can manage work visas in Saudi Arabia and follow documentation rules. You'll need to know how to legally hire employees without an owned entity, manage work visa requirements, and manage employees or contractors compliantly in the country.

Employers should ensure all hiring and payment processes strictly adhere to employment and tax laws. Failing to do so is harshly penalized and may result in hefty financial fines on employers, deportation of workers, and civil or criminal offenses in cases of repeat or serious violations. 

This industry-defining guide will keep you abreast of work visa requirements and permits in Saudi Arabia and how to hire remote employees compliantly from start to finish. 

The importance of immigration compliance in Saudi Arabia

If you're hiring noncitizens in Saudi Arabia under any work arrangement, including remote work, you must ensure they are employed according to local labor laws and regulations.

The Cancellation of Fines and Exemption of Penalties Initiative gives employees and workers only up to six months, as of June 1, 2022, to fill out the required forms and adjust their situation. Otherwise, employers may face a series of financial penalties and possible civil actions due to:

  • Noncompliance with VAT invoice issuance, the inclusion of all VAT elements, and accounting invoice maintenance 

  • Noncompliance with VAT e-invoicing provisions

The growing adoption, even popularity, of remote work and digital nomad visas or programs may lead some employers and workers to pay insufficient attention to adequate — and legal — ways to work in Saudi Arabia. For example, Saudi Arabia already has several visa types for different purposes, including tourism. So bypassing established rules for each visa type, such as working on a tourist visa, is a ticket to regulatory fines, possible deportation, and more.

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Which workers need a right-to-work check in Saudi Arabia?

For years, Saudi Arabia has been improving the criteria needed to strike a balance between employer and work rights. For example, to help improve right-to-work checks, enhance work conditions locally, and transfer skills to Saudi nationals, Saudi Arabia has in place a nationwide Saudization program

The employment process based on nationality is regulated as follows:

  • Permanent residents. Like citizens, permanent residents are free to work anywhere in Saudi Arabia without restrictions. 

  • Temporary residents. Unless meeting the requirements above, all temporary residents — including individuals holding tourist, business visit, or residence visas — must follow prescribed procedures and rules for foreigners who wish to work in Saudi Arabia. To be eligible, workers need to apply via an employer, who must contact the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

  • Work permit holders. This class of noncitizens already fulfills all requirements to work and stay in Saudi Arabia. 

Managing work visas and permits for noncitizens in Saudi Arabia can get complex for employers who may not have enough resources and/or legal expertise.

Here is where a global employment service such as Remote can add value so you as an employer can focus on what matters most for your business: market expansion, growth, and ultimately brand recognition and respect. 

Do noncitizens need a work visa or work permit in Saudi Arabia?

Yes. As a general rule, all noncitizens need a work visa (and residence permit) to work and stay in Saudi Arabia. Requirements vary depending on each applicant's nationality, residence status, education and skills, and more factors. That said, an Employment visa (which entails getting a residence permit) is generally all that any noncitizen needs to work in Saudi Arabia.  

What are the eligibility requirements for a work visa in Saudi Arabia?

All foreigners are required to follow provisions and rules specified in Articles 48-50 of the Saudi Labor Code, including:

  • Securing a work permit as per form and procedures prescribed by the Saudi Minister of Labor

  • Obtaining the Saudi Minister of Labor's approval

  • Entering Saudi Arabia legally and satisfying all relevant residency conditions 

  • Having skills or qualifications needed in Saudi Arabia and shown to be lacking among Saudi nationals

  • Having an employer contract, under a Saudi or non-Saudi employer, or being independently employed

Worker requirements may vary on a case-by-case basis. 

What are the long-stay visa types in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is opening up, and more residency visas continue to be introduced, including long-stay visas such as:

  • Residence visa: No residence periods are specified

  • Premium residency visa: Granted to high-value residents who can stay and work in Saudi Arabia without work permits or sponsors

  • Family visit visa: Intended for family reunion purposes (no residence periods are specified)

How do you get a work visa for Saudi Arabia?

The documentation requirements, application place, and average processing time of an Employment visa for U.S. citizens* are as follows.

Documentation requirements

  • Original valid passport

  • Completed online application form

  • A visa referral note

  • An original employer sponsorship letter

  • Employment contract

  • Certified and notarized copy of the applicant's university degree or diploma

  • Certified and notarized copy of training or technical diploma

  • Medical report

  • Criminal record report

Application place

The application process can be done only through one of the following: 

  • The embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington

  • The embassy's authorized list of visa offices

Handling these processes can be expensive and time-consuming.

If you are planning to handle these processes yourself, it could be expensive, and time-consuming and lead to legal challenges or penalties if you're unaware of applicable laws, regulations, or rules. To hire employees abroad, your company can benefit greatly from working with an established employer of record (EOR). Learn more about how an employer of record works and when you should use one.

What is the process for employee work visa sponsorship in Saudi Arabia?

In a major regulatory development, Saudi Arabia abolished the Kafala system in 2021 and made it possible for workers to negotiate employment contracts and choose to leave a given employer or Saudi Arabia without prior approval from an employer (sponsor). 

This new arrangement enables employers to sponsor noncitizens directly after signing an employment contract and obtaining necessary permissions from the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and the Ministry of Interior.

What are the visa requirements for digital nomads in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia does not yet have any laws or official regulations governing how, where, or when digital nomads can work in Saudi Arabia. 

Since remote work isn't officially recognized for noncitizens, employers cannot simply hire noncitizens to work remotely under any form of employment agreement. They can only do so via an employment visa arrangement (as for U.S. citizens) or as indicated and approved by local authorities. 

Employers must be careful when hiring noncitizens to work remotely as digital nomads in Saudi Arabia. Recent labor reforms and the abolishing of the Kafala system are by no means permission to hire noncitizens remotely.

 Instead, uninitiated employers are strongly advised to seek expert legal advice to help manage remote workers, independent contractors, and digital nomads in Saudi Arabia. Reach out to Remote to manage your digital workforce and focus on what matters most to you: business growth.

How Remote makes compliance in Saudi Arabia so much easier

The requirements for work visas and permits can get complicated for employers who want to operate legally in Saudi Arabia and hire employees and contractors. 

To complicate matters, relocating to Saudi Arabia may prove challenging to noncitizens whose cultures, professional backgrounds, or personal preferences may differ from the majority of the population. If you work with an employer of record(EOR), it becomes much easier and quicker to hire employees abroad. Remote’s team of employment experts handles everything from onboarding, benefits, payroll, and taxes to compliance with local immigration and labor laws.

Download Remote’s Relocation Guide for insights on how you can manage the process of employee relocation. You can also contact our Mobility team, who can answer any questions you may have about the process of employing team members globally. 

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