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Changes to Iqama rules in Saudi Arabia

by Expatguru - 08/29/2015

"This article highlights the important changes announced recently by the Saudi Government with respect to resident cards (Iqamas) issued to expatriates and emphasizes its importance. "

As mentioned in the past in this column, the most important document which expatriates in Saudi Arabia need to carry is the resident card, known more popularly as the Iqama.

Every single document issued in the kingdom is based on the Iqama number. It is common practice in Saudi Arabia for the sponsor to keep safe custody of the employees’ passports. Within three months from the date of arrival in the kingdom, it is mandatory that every expatriate to possess an Iqama. Without an Iqama, you cannot open a bank account, cannot transfer money out of the country, cannot even apply for a driving license and hence cannot buy a vehicle and will find it extremely difficult to carry out day to day transactions of any kind.

Until recently, the Iqama used to be a small booklet – green in color for Muslims and dark brown for non-Muslims. This was subsequently changed into the form of a card. Some of the most important data from your passport is transferred to the Iqama in addition to certain crucial data, the most important one being your visa profession. As per Saudi law, an expatriate cannot take an Iqama out of the kingdom and can be in possession of any one document – either his passport or his iqama. So, each time you go out on vacation, you need to surrender your iqama to your sponsor to get back your passport. While the earlier booklet only had the names of dependents and their years of birth, it became mandatory for dependents to have their own Iqamas with the introduction of cards.

Last week, the Assistant Director General of the Passports Department (Jawasat) announced that the current Iqama cards would now be electronically issued with certain security features added. Apart from this, the most important change is that while the annual fees for renewal of iqamas is still the same, it now has to be paid for five years in advance as a lump sum amount. The new cards would not have an expiry date, but the same would be there in the system.

While this would hardly have any impact directly on expatriates as renewal charges are mandatorily to be borne by the sponsors and not passed on to expats, there are certain exceptions too. For instance, once your dependant kids cross the age of 18, most expat contracts have a clause that the sponsor would not bear the expenses of such kids. Since it is not allowed for expats to sponsor sons above 18 as per Saudi law, for those wishing to sponsor their unmarried daughters (less than 25 years), an annual fee of SR500 (payable for five years in advance) has to be borne by such expatriates.

Since most employment contracts are for 2 years (renewable subsequently), the rule for paying the fees for five years upfront is under heated debate in the kingdom. This column will keep you posted on the same.


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