What is the change? Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has approved a plan for a new residence permit (iqama) program for highly skilled foreign experts, investors and entrepreneurs.

What does the change mean? The “privileged iqama” system will allow holders certain rights, such as residence rights, the right to recruit workers, the right to own property and the right to issue visitor visas. Additionally, holders of the privileged iqama will be able to enter and leave the Kingdom without prior permission from a sponsor. Under the new program, two types of iqama permits will be offered: a permanent iqama with an unlimited validity period and a temporary iqama with a one-year validity period, renewable.

Eligibility requirements:

Applicants must hold certain professional or scientific skills or own a company in Saudi Arabia (specifics to be determined), be over 21 years old, hold a valid passport and have a clean criminal record.

Cancelation of the iqama:

The privileged iqama can be canceled if the holder does not comply with the stipulations set out in Article 7 of the law. Additionally, the privileged iqama will be canceled if the applicant provides false information on the initial or renewal application, or if the holder is convicted of a crime or is deported.

  • Implementation time frame: To be announced.
  • Visas/permits affected: Residence permits (iqama).
  • Who is affected: Eligible foreign nationals.
  • Business impact: Companies employing eligible applicants will need to provide a valid passport, health records and a criminal record certificate, and show that the employee has sufficient financial resources when applying for the privileged iqama.

Background: Throughout the region, governments are beginning to offer residence programs that allow foreign nationals to reside in their countries for longer time periods and afford them certain rights that were not previously available. In the UAE, for example, the government introduced 10-year residence investor visas to recruit qualifying investors to the country. Qatar recently launched a permanent residence program as part of its Vision 2030 development plan. Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch a privileged iqama residence system aims to stimulate investments into the Kingdom by making it easier for high-skilled labor to remain in the country and for recruitment of workers.

Analysis & Comments: The residence program is good news for companies because it will allow them to more easily recruit and retain foreign employees in Saudi Arabia. While certain aspects of the privileged iqama, such as application fees, have not yet been solidified, more information should be available closer to the implementation date.

Source: Deloitte LLP. Deloitte LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC303675 and its registered office at 1 New Street Square, London EC4A 3HQ, United Kingdom.