Investment from foreign companies into Saudi Arabia has vastly grown in the past decade, which is unsurprising, as Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter and owner of the world’s single-largest oil field. Saudi is also the largest economy in the Persian Gulf and service industries such as mobile communications are booming. Saudi Arabia has now opened its stock market (which is the largest in the Middle East) to foreign investors for the first time. Foreign companies are therefore increasingly moving into the country to set up entities and invest.
The Block Visa
The Saudi Arabian Block Visa is the most common type of immigration approval for migrant workers going into Saudi Arabia. Approval for multiple applicants is granted on one document for specific roles within a company. Once this approval has been received, the individuals must then on the basis of the Block approval make their visa applications at their nearest Saudi Arabian Embassy.
The Block Visa is granted on the basis of very specific criteria, namely – the migrant’s nationality, job role and country of application. This involves the company applying for the allocation of Block positions, with specific and particular employees in mind. It is not enough for the HR manager to have a vague idea that they require a certain number of professionals from anywhere in the world. It is essential that they have a specific person in mind to do a specific role.
This also requires the company to plan in advance. It is essential to know the exact nationality of the applicant, their country of residence and their exact job role. This is not always as easy as it appears. In the instance an applicant has dual nationality it should not be assumed which passport they intend to use, or which country they would wish to apply from. An applicant may be also resident in another country than that of their nationality. Assignees need to make their individual applications at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in their country of residence/nationality or, if there is no Embassy, the closest to their country of residence. This, of course, must also match what is printed on the block. Getting the job title correct is also hugely important as the job title will be scrutinised against the degree qualification, at the stage of applying for the visa and problems can arise where the applicant has a degree qualification in a field unrelated to the role that they are to carry out for the company.
It is also important to note that once the Block has been approved, it cannot be amended. For instance, the Block allocation must match the job title the assignee intends to carry out exactly. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as changing the job title on the employment contract to match the Block Allocation. Considering this factor, and the fact that companies have employees from all over the globe that they wish to transfer, each applications often has its own challenges.
Other common problems faced with the Saudi Block Visa Applications
1 – Different requirements at different Embassies
Whilst one Embassy will have one list of requirements, another Embassy will ask for different documents in order to process the application. Simply because an application in one country has run smoothly with the documents provided, does not mean that you necessarily know what another Embassy will ask for. For example, certain Embassies will ask for travel confirmation whereas others do not require this. This can cause problems as the company usually will not want to book a flight for an individual and incur expense until the visa has been issued. Travel itinerates are not always accepted and an Embassy may request an E-Ticket stamped by the travel agent.
Some Embassies will not provide you with a medical certificate form until you have at least registered onto their electronic system or provided certain documents to them. Saudi Arabia requires an applicant to undertake a medical examination for the visa application and will provide a very specific form to be completed by a medical practitioner. It is not possible to have this organised in advance if the Embassy will not allow you to book a medical examination until you first provide certain specified documents. In Egypt for example, you cannot register yourself onto the electronic system at the Embassy, you must do this through an authorised agent. However, this is not required by all Embassies, usually an applicant can pick up a medical form from the Embassy and complete the medical examination at a specified clinic.
In some instances it may be necessary for the passport number to be printed onto the employment contract or the salary to be stated in Saudi Riyals, but this will not be clear until the documents are presented to the Embassy.
Lastly, occasionally an Embassy may accept an experience letter from the company if the degree does not match up with the job title. However, each Embassy is able to use discretion in this respect and so whilst the application might be rejected in one Embassy, a different Embassy might approve it.
2 – Documentation expiries
Documents such as the medical certificate and police certificate must have been issued within 3 months to be accepted by the Saudi Arabian Embassy. If there is the a delay with the other documents, such as the employment contract the assignee will have to obtain fresh medical and police clearance certificates in order for the application to be processed. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the timings for the application are understood and well planned.
Location specific challenges
Specific problems are encountered when applying for Saudi block visas for Egyptian nationals. Firstly, Egyptian nationals actually have their profession printed in their passports. The job title stated in the passport needs to be exactly as stated on their employment contract. In order to have the job title printed on to the passport, the passport office must be assured that the assignee will be carrying out the job specified. In order to do this, they usually require a copy of the degree certificate, to confirm that the applicant is qualified to do the job. The biggest obstacle with this is when the applicant has studied abroad, as they will be required to obtain a translated equivalent diploma from the Ministry of Higher Education. This can take up to one month to obtain, and this is even before the application for the passport can be made.
In other words, in order to even begin the procedure for the Saudi Arabian visa application, the passport, the degree, the Block Allocation and the Employment contract must all match up.
Eastern European Nationals
Nationals from Eastern Europe also face difficulties due to political tensions in the region. For example, there is no Saudi Arabian Embassy in Croatia or Kosovo and so nationals from these countries must apply in either the Albanian or Bosnian Embassies. For a Kosovan national for example, the Block would most likely show the closest Embassy to be Bosnia. However, we are aware from experience that the Bosnian Embassy can refuse to process applications from Kosovan nationals. However, if the Block allocation states that the submission is to be made in Bosnia, no other Embassy will accept the application and ultimately the Block Allocation will be lost. This is just another example of the problems caused by the criteria on the Block having to be so very specific.
In conclusion, the steps that we advise companies to follow prior to applying for the Block Visa are –
1. Instruct an expert – the system can be difficult to navigate on your own as a company applying for the Block Visa. With the variety of nationalities that you may wish to employ, there will be a variety of Embassies and governmental authorities, as well as a multitude of varying regulations to understand. Further, you must consider the levels and layers of the visa application; for example, an assignee might be a national of one country, resident in another and have a degree certificate from a totally different country. Instruct an Immigration advisor with Global capabilities to help you coordinate all these aspects on your behalf in the first instance.
2. Prepare your assignees in advance – you should ensure you have a clear picture in your mind of who you wish to employ before applying for the Block Visa. You should contact each candidate with a job offer immediately and ask to see copies of passports, residence cards, and degree certificates and ask for solid confirmation of where they are resident and where they wish to make their applications. This will hopefully go some way to ensure that no Block position is wasted, as you will know the exact details of the candidate and can ensure that the job title, degree and employment contract all correlate.
3. Inform Project managers that the process will be extensive – of course, the whole procedure can be extremely time consuming if you should need to amend passports, have degree certificates legalised and coordinate travel plans for assignees, however the project managers may not understand the process fully. This may create unrealistic ideals of how soon they can have the assignee in Saudi Arabia to commence work on the project. You should ensure that you communicate the procedure to Project managers in order to provide realistic timescales and to manage expectations.
4. Start the process as early as possible to avoid delays – ultimately, the process is long winded, time consuming and complex. It is vital that you start the process as early as possible to ensure that sufficient time is built into the process of getting your workers where they need to be.
If you are facing similar challenges currently and require assistance or simply wish to receive more information regarding the Block visa process then please contact us.