Saudi Arabia has extended the validity of new work visas for expatriates in private sector firms for two years instead of one year without any additional fees, the ministry of Labor and Social Development has revealed.
The extension of the time limit also covers old visas, local media reported. Khalid Abalkhail, the spokesperson for the ministry, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the decision is related to regular work visas, noting that housekeeping visas are not included. He did not give the number of issued visas to the private sector in the past year.
Companies can also cancel old visas and issue new visas for two years if the visa requirements are still valid, the ministry said.
The move comes after the kingdom announced in 2017 that it would be reducing the duration of work visa for expats from two years to one year.
An exemption was granted to domestic workers and foreigners working at government agencies, who continued to receive two-year visas.
The ministry said that the decision was taken with a view to reducing obstacles for private sector firms and easing processes for businesses, according to an Arabic infographic tweet shared by its official account.
"While the decision may be attacked by some Saudi citizens and job seekers, it is a catalyst for production and contributes to fill the needs of factories and companies in terms of the operational aspects of enterprises," Safar Ayad, a Saudi economist and the co-founder of the digital economy section of local paper Alsharq, told Zawya.
The kingdom has introduced several new labour regulations in recent years in a bid to increase employment among Saudi citizens.
Since November 2012, the kingdom has charged SAR200 ($53) a month for each foreign worker at private sector companies where the number of expatriates exceeds Saudis.
This fee increased to SAR300-400 ($80-$107) per foreign worker in 2018 and will rise to SAR700-800 ($187-$213) by 2020.
More recently, the country has imposed job restrictions in 12 retail roles as part of which those facilities will have to ensure that at least 70 per cent of their staff are Saudi nationals.
The regulation was first announced in January last year and implemented in a phased manner.