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What you need to know – Saudi Arabia Immigration update
| Kevin Crasto

What you need to know – Saudi Arabia Immigration update

We will undoubtedly remember the COVID-19 pandemic for the rest of our lives. The world has taken numerous initiatives to curb the spread of the virus and evidently, the imposed restrictions on mobility and immigration have affected business operations around the globe. As with other regions, Saudi Arabia has taken a strong stance toward combatting the deadly disease.

Outlined in this blog are the most current and important immigration updates that may help answer questions with respect to individuals, employees and employers in Saudi Arabia.

Limiting movement within the Kingdom

The authorities in Saudi Arabia initiated a limited curfew back in mid-March 2020, which progressed to a 24-hour curfew, and allowed movement for workers only in vital industries such as medical, military and security sectors. Residents were unable to leave their homes, unless for medical and food supplies within their community and only during specific hours. Domestic flights and public transportation services including buses, taxis and trains were also suspended.

Currently, Saudi Arabia has relaxed the 24-hour curfew (except in Mecca and certain areas in Dammam), allowing movement during specific times and for businesses operating in sectors such as food, health, media, transportation, e-commerce and energy to name a few, with special approvals.

Airport restrictions

Like many countries, Saudi Arabia has imposed various conditions for travellers entering the Kingdom.  At the end of February, entry for travellers on tourist visas was suspended and was shortly followed by a suspension on all international flights from mid-March.  The only travel exceptions during this time were granted for Saudi citizens returning to the Kingdom.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is allowing outbound repatriation flights to certain destinations, which enable foreign nationals who hold residence permits, visit visas or tourist visas to return to their home country by following a formalized process – “Awdah.” Awdah, meaning “return,” is a service on the Absher platform that allows individuals in Saudi Arabia to register their details with the authorities, which will then review the request and, subject to relevant approvals, will notify the individual on the travel procedures.

Immigration concessions

The authorities in Saudi Arabia have supported businesses and introduced various concessions during this period. This began with automatic three-month extensions for residence and exit re-entry permits (Iqama) expiring within specific periods, granting extension of business visit visas and tourist visas for foreign nationals in the Kingdom who were unable to immediately travel, and a waiver of renewal fees on residence permits, to name a few.

Recently, the authorities have also introduced a system to refund work visa fees for applicants who were unable to travel into the Kingdom.

We understand that it is a crucial time for businesses to keep current on the latest immigration trends, due to the fluidity of regulations. Our goal is to continue to make available critical information and resources to support businesses during this uncertain time. More details on any COVID-19 related immigration information can be found on our website www.fragomen.com.

Should you wish to discuss any mobility or immigration-related matters for Saudi Arabia, please reach out to me at [email protected].