This week, Saudi Arabia announced that private sector firms will now be able to get instant visas for foreign workers, a process that used to take around eight months previously. In order to be granted an instant visa, the company must be enrolled in the kingdom's "nationalization program" and must have witnessed an increase in its Saudi workforce. Only firms in the medium green category and above, in terms of "percentage of Saudis in the workforce," are eligible to use the service.
The kingdom has been attempting to reduce its reliance on foreign labor to see the "Saudization" process turn into a reality. Nationalizing the workforce is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, so the most recent decision only applies to countries working in line with the kingdom's goals.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development made the announcement on Monday through its Qiwa electronic portal, an initiative that aims at digitizing and consolidating employment services in the country. Not only must the company prove an increase in national workers, but also be in full compliance with the ministry's overall regulations.
Companies must also tick off several other things to be eligible for using the new service, one of which has to do with career advertising, according to the Saudi Gazette.
The newly launched service may help grow the Saudization rates in the kingdom. At the same time, it is offering a facilitated visa process as a "reward" to companies for complying with the program.
In recent years, non-Saudis have seen fewer job opportunities available to them. The number of foreign workers declined by 6 percent in the first three months of 2018; more than 234,000 expats left the kingdom during the same period. In just 18 months, more than 800,000 expats had left the country. The number exceeds an estimation in 2017 which claimed 670,000 expats would leave Saudi Arabia by 2020. However, during the peak of it all, the Saudi unemployment rate reached an all-time high.
According to a 2019 report, the unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia dropped in the third quarter of last year. The rate went up to 12.9 percent in the first quarter of 2018, but decreased down to 12.8 percent in the third quarter. The spike came after the kingdom introduced a 5 percent value-added-tax (VAT), which impacted private employers.
The kingdom has passed several orders to ensure the Saudization process checks out including one that terminates all contracts pertaining to expatriate workers in governments and ministries within three years and another that nationalizes jobs in shopping malls.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Labor and Social Development issued an order reducing the validity of expat work visas for private-sector employees in the country from two years to one year. In November 2017, the Ministry of Labor and Development arrested a number of expats caught working in nationalized sectors. It also warned violators of deportation.
Vision 2030 also aims at developing non-oil-related industries, supporting small and medium enterprises, increasing the participation of Saudi women in the workforce, and creating a broader investment base in the country.