What is the Purpose of a Saudi Arabia Business Visa?
A Saudi Arabia Business Visa is officially meant to be used for individuals who want to come to Saudi Arabia to work for a company as the representative of another company from outside Saudi Arabia. This could mean as a consultant coming to install a new software system, a trainer coming to run a course, a salesman coming to sell their latest product or a business man coming to the kingdom to investigate potential ventures. In all cases the individual should be sponsored by a company within Saudi Arabia and employed outside of the kingdom. However this visa is often misused to bring new employees into the country when a company is either unable to secure a Saudi work visa or is unwilling to.
What is a Saudi Business Visa Usually Used for?
Many companies have problems gaining visas for new employees due to the move to make more positions available to Saudi nationals only and to limit the number of foreign workers a company can employ in a bid to reduce the high levels of Saudi unemployment. However many companies attempt to get around this problem by bringing in new employees through the use of a business Visa rather than a work visa. This is fairly common place and the embassies that process the visas generally ignore the fact that many applicants for business visas fail to complete the section which details who they work for outside the kingdom.
The other common use is for new employees during their probation period, if the employee is not as affective as hoped they can always be unable to get them a new visa when the current one is finished.
How do you get a Saudi Business Visa?
All visas for Saudi Arabia require a sponsor within Saudi Arabia, this will be a recognised Saudi company in the case of a business visa rather than an individual. The company will apply for the visa using your basic details (name and passport details) to gain Visa approval and be issued a visa number. This approval with the visa number will be sent to you by the company, sometimes via an agent and you will then have to process your visa at the Saudi Arabian embassy in your home country.
Each embassy has a set of requirements for people who wish to get their visas approved, visit their website and read exactly what it is they require and how they require it. The Saudi Embassy staff can be quite pedantic and will require everything exactly as requested otherwise they will reject your application even if it is a minor issue. The Requirements will generally cover things such as your passport and educational certificates but they will not normally want a medical and so forth for a business visa unlike for a work visa.
Once upon a time you could just bring your paperwork to the embassy yourself and it could be approved and back to you within 2 days if you completed the paperwork correctly. However most embassies now ask you to use an agent for this actually very simple process and it can now take upwards of 10 days and of course costs significantly more due to the agents fees. However the use of an agent will generally ensure that your application will not be rejected as the agent should ensure that all of your paperwork is correct before submitting your application.
Visas are usually 1 month, 3 month or even 6 months in duration and can be single or multiple entry, if possible ensure that you get yourself a multiple entry business visa as you will then have the freedom to go to places such as Bahrain and Dubai should either the business need or social need arise.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Saudi Business Visa
There are a few advantages to having a business visa over a work visa as well as a few disadvantages that may potentially cause you some problems.
- You can leave Saudi Arabia any time you wish without the permission of your sponsor.
- Most visas require monthly stamping (Check with your sponsor), either through leaving the country and returning each month or through your company taking the visa to be stamped (but see below.)
- You cannot open a bank account and may have problems getting simple things like car hire, sending money and even getting a Sim card without an Iqama (residency permit.)
- You have no protection in Saudi Labor law as you are not employed by your sponsor, only visiting for business purposes.
I used Saudi Arabian business visas for almost a year when I first entered the kingdom, each time the company got me a three month multiple entry visa as they were having problems getting any work visas as they had been “blacklisted”. This should have been fine but the stamping process each month began to cause problems as did delays in having the visa re-issued in my home country. Working as a business consultant I needed to be able to schedule client visits sometimes several weeks in advance and be able to meet those dates without fail. At the end of my first three month visa I left a two week window in which to return to the kingdom which I managed very comfortably. However when my next visa was sent for stamping at the end of two months it was refused, the ministry insisted that I would have to leave early (they wanted me to be deported that day but they managed to get a stamp for 5 days by passing some money under the table!)
This problem caused me to have to cancel several important appointments and reschedule them, thankfully the clients understood and it did not cause too much of a problem. I returned home to process my next visa and instead of it taking a week or two at the most it took almost a month as the embassy had changed its processes, this caused me to miss some of my rescheduled appointments with some of the most important customers with which we were negotiating major contracts, not very helpful to say the least.
Due to the volatility of the visa I found myself unable to book any appointments in the third month of my 3 month visa and was beginning to suffer professionally due to this as I was begging to gain a reputation as being unreliable. There was no end in sight for the use of the Business visa so I quit the job towards the end of the 4Th visa, but not before I encountered one more major problem;
The company who had possession of my passport failed to get it stamped and I became illegal, as did the family of one of my colleagues (wife and children) due to other problems caused by the inept HR department. We were advised that we should leave the country through Dammam airport as they were not as thorough at checking as they were in Riyadh but if we were caught we would be imprisoned and face large fines. I now know that the fine would have been the responsibility of the company not my own personal responsibility, but at the time this was quite a worry. My friend and his family were of course terrified at the thought of being jailed, but it looked like it was something that was almost unavoidable if we wanted to try and leave. In the end we were smuggled out of the country over the bridge to Bahrain, the story of which you can read by following this link; Leaving Saudi Arabia Illegally.
There are no guarantees that a company will be able to repeatably get you a business visa, so if they are using this process for your “employment” be aware that if the ministry reject the companies application you could end up with no job and no way to enforce any contractual agreements. A Saudi Arabia Business Visa is for those wishing to visit to do business with a Saudi company, using it for other purposes can lead to problems within KSA.