Saudi Arabia: Understanding
employment visas

The process of obtaining a work visa in Saudi Arabia is notoriously complex. To help employers and prospective visa applicants gain a better understanding of the process, the global immigration team at Smith Stone Walters has created the following bite-size summary of applying for an employment visa in Saudi Arabia.

The process is divided into separate stages, from pre-screening to the issuing of your work visa and residency permit.


Individuals applying for a work visa in Saudi Arabia must always be sponsored by an employer. This can either be a Saudi based company, a Saudi citizen or a foreign entity licensed to conduct business in Saudi Arabia.

If your company is planning to move or relocate an existing team member or recruit new employees in Saudi Arabia, it is important to understand that the sponsoring employer will be responsible for a large part of the application process.

Below, we briefly outline the necessary steps involved to hire any foreign national in Saudi Arabia.

Stage 1: The sponsoring employer

  • In order to hire any foreign national, the sponsoring employer or entity must have a valid commercial license and must register with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. This is an essential step required before you commence the hiring process.
  • Upon successful registration, the Ministry will open an immigration file with information regarding all of the employer’s expatriate workers.
  • The Saudi employer will lodge an application for a work visa with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labor. This could take between 4-12 weeks.
  • Once the application is approved, the Ministry of Labor will notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Saudi Embassy in the applicant’s respective country. Within two weeks, the Ministry of Foreign affairs will issue a Visa Authorisation Number. This can take up to two weeks.

Stage 2: The applicant

  • The employee will then submit their employment visa application to the relevant Saudi Arabian Embassy. Please note, some Saudi Embassies overseas only accept applications from a registered agent. This means the agent has to be registered with the Saudi Embassy in your respective country.
  • Once the application is lodged at the Embassy, they will issue the visa within one to three weeks, at which point the employee can travel to Saudi Arabia.
  • Generally, the entry clearance visa is issued for between 14-90 days, and the employee will need to travel to Saudi Arabia within this period (this is entirely at the Embassy’s discretion).
  • Please note that if a prospective hire is planning to relocate and bring a spouse or children to Saudi Arabia, family visit visas will be required.

Stage 3: Residency permit

  • When in Saudi Arabia, the employee must apply for a residency permit, or Iqama, through the Ministry of Labor.
  • The Ministry of Labor will forward the approved application to the Ministry of Interior, where the Iqama will be issued through the Directorate General for Passports.
  • If the employee would like to travel in and out of Saudi Arabia during the duration of their employment, they will need to apply for an Exit/Re-Entry Permit through the Ministry of Interior. This permit is generally issued within one week.

Support with global immigration

If you have any queries relating to employment visas in Saudi Arabia, please contact the SSW Global Immigration team.

We are able to provide full immigration support and also post-arrival assistance. With the help of our global network, we are able to navigate international law and assist with the processing of this visa route and ensure that local immigration rules are met thereafter.

To speak to a member of the team, please contact us today.

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