Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Visit visa renewal

If you are one of those expatriates working in Saudi Arabia and have sponsored anyone on a visit visa, this is a must-read for you. Some important changes have taken place to the law, which I thought of sharing with you :-S

For those of you who have started reading this blog recently, I would like you to refer to this link which gives the details of sponsoring your family on a visit visa.

First, the procedure for renewing a visit visa. Make sure that you renew your visa well before the expiry date. As per the new law, if an expatriate has sponsored someone on a visit visa and has failed to renew it (even by a day), he faces a penalty of SR10,000. The person who has been sponsored will be asked to to leave the country immediately. That is not all. Hold your breath. When your iqama is about to expire, it will not be renewed and you will be deported ^#(^

This is no joke. The Saudi authorities are implementing this rule very strictly with immediate effect. This is to check the people who are staying back unauthorizedly in the kingdom.

I would strongly urge you to do the renewal atleast 10 days before its expiry. The procedure itself is quite simple. You have to go to the Passport Office in your city (Jawasat), and take the form meant for renewal of the visit visa. Everything has to necessarily be in Arabic and remember, all dates have to be as per Hijri calendar. Use the calendar converter given in this blog to convert Gregorian dates into Hijri dates.

Take the help of someone who can write Arabic and fill in all the details. Remember that presently there is no multiple entry for visit visas, so you have to check the box given in the form as single entry. Also, you must write clearly the date of expiry of the visit visa, for which you are submitting the application for renewal.

If, for example, the validity of the visa is written as 3 months, you must calculate it as per Hijri calendar. The 3-month period starts from the date your visitor landed in the kingdom, not the date of issue of visa. To be on the safer side, always deduct a week, i.e., submit your application in 80 to 83 days, not exactly on the 90th day, if it is a 3-month visa.

You will have to fill in the passport details in the form and all personal details such as address, religion, etc. Do not leave any space blank. Once completed, you will have to attach with this a copy of your residence permit (iqama) and the original passport of your visitor.

Next, take it to the passport office and give it to the authorized officer. Usually it is a policeman with a single star on his uniform. He is the one who decides whether to renew the visa for 1 month, 2 months or 3 months. It is absolutely his discretion and mood, so the best you can do is to politely request him for a 3-month extension. Remember, there is no column in the form asking for the number of days of extension #-o

(Update as on 29th December, 2014: The passport department has now announced that the validity of visit visas has been reduced to 180 days, which means not more than 1 extension of 3 months).

He will just put his signature with instructions on the number of days of extension. Next, you will have to take this form to another officer who will collect SR100 for each visitor plus the original passport. If he is busy, he will ask you to come later. You will not be given a receipt for either the passport or the money, so do not even attempt to ask him. Don't make the blunder of arguing with him, you simply have to wait :-w

When you go back at the specified time, he will dig out the passport you had given earlier, stick on it a SR100 stamp and will put his seal and signature across the stamp. Wait, it is still not over yet >:P

The last step is to take this passport to yet another officer. Usually, he is a higher-ranked officer with 2 stars. He will also have to sign across the SR100 stamp, only then it becomes a valid document #:-S

That's it foks :-B Hope you found the post useful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tips for business visitors to Saudi Arabia

Working in Saudi Arabia is both exciting as well as a challenge. A few tips for business visitors and for those who are on a short trip to the kingdom is not out of place. Prior knowledge of what and when to do before meeting your hosts always helps.
Saudis are quite hospitable, particularly when it involves business visitors. The first rule is to dress business-like: a suit with a tie should do, atleast for the first day. You will find that your hosts would be in their 'thobes' - the traditional Arabic dress - a long white robe . They would also be wearing a headgear - a white or pink squares in a white cloth with a black ring around the head. The weather is quite hot most of the year, but once indoor, you will find that all buildings are air conditioned and quite comfortable.
Remember to give a warm and firm handshake. If you are entering a room where a group of Saudis are seated, start always from the person on your right hand side and move towards your left anti-clockwise. Do not forget to greet each person with a "Salaam Alaikum" with a slight bow of your head and a genuine smile. It goes down well with your hosts.
While exchanging business cards, NEVER EVER keep your host's business card on your hip pocket. It is considered as an ultimate insult. Also, while seated in a chair, avoid sitting cross-legged such that one of your shoes point at your hosts.
You will usually be offered a traditional drink, called gahwa, which is a small cup of hot water mixed with cardamom powder. Never refuse it, but if you find it unpalatable, atleast try to take a sip rather than refusing it outright. It is usual for the Saudis to keep filling your cup once it is empty. This drink is normally taken along with dates.
Before you proceed to your meeting, be well-informed about the prayer timings. It keeps changing slightly every day, and it is quite normal for business meetings to be put on hold during prayer times. If you are a Muslim, you would be expected to participate in the prayers along with them. In case you are wearing a gold chain around your neck, try not to make it too obvious. Also, try to avoid wearing gold bracelets. These are considered taboo by Saudis as they are supposed to be worn only by women. Wearing a gold ring is considered okay, and usually nobody will make a fuss about it.
Patience is a very big virtue and do take time to develop your business relationship. Saudi Arabia is an extremely close-knit society and family and tribal connections matter top on the priority list. Establishing personal rapport with your hosts and developing genuine friendship would almost always result in a successful business relationship.
NEVER EVER discuss about religion, politics, monarchy, terrorism, security and such controversial issues, even on the sidelines. These are extremely sensitive matters. Topics which are considered okay are weather, football (the Saudis are a football-crazy nation and are extremely well-informed about the game), travel, hobbies, etc.
If you are giving a Powerpoint presentation, try to use bullets and avoid long texts. Always begin by mentioning the history of your company and do not directly barge into the main topic. Pay attention to the body language of your hosts, as it would reveal more than what a thousand words would not. Try to make the discussion more interactive by involving your hosts, rather than simply lecturing them.
Saudis usually associate any reference to time with the words "Insha Allah", which literally means "God willing". It could mean a few days, hours or months depending on the context, but normaly when they make a promise, it is usually kept. Do not expect miracles to happen right from the first meeting.
Never ever use your left hand. If your right hand is dirty or even wet, never ever shake hands with anyone before cleaning it thoroughly. If you are caught in such a situation that you must shake hands, offer your wrist instead. Strange as it may sound, it is considered quite okay in this part of the world, rather than withdrawing or not offering your hand, which would be considered offensive.
Remember the names of your hosts, or atleast a few of the important ones. Always address them by their last names, more so in the first few meetings.
When you complete your meeting, remember to once again shake hands with each of your hosts and do not forget to thank each one of them. Once you reach home, follow it up with an email thanking them - it goes down well with the Saudis. Remember, building a strong inter-personal relationship is the basis for a long-lasting business relationship!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Expatriate Grievance Cell

Contrary to popular belief, expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are protected by Saudi law and they do have certain rights. This post is meant to throw light on some of those rights and what to do in case any of the expatriates has a problem with his sponsor. Before explaining the rights of expats, I would also like to caution that under no circumstances must expatriates violate the local law. As mentioned earlier (click this link), you have come for money, nothing more, nothing less, so do not break any law if you want protection under the same law.

It is not a bed or roses for expatriates working in Saudi Arabia. The majority of the expat population falls under non-supervisory category. Most of them are quite lowly-paid and there are certainly instances where the sponsor plays foul. Most of these cases pertain to non-payment or delayed payment of salaries, asking expats to pay for their residence visas (iqama), their exit/re-entry visas, etc. Coming from poor backgrounds, most of these men simply do not know where or whom to approach when they are in trouble. Sadly, some of them simply abscond and work illegally elsewhere till they are either caught by the police or till they voluntarily surrender themselves for being deported.

During a recent flight home, I saw atleast 50 odd people who were travelling on the same flight as mine, all of whom were deported after serving a brief term in jail. Their crime was working illegally and overstaying in the kingdom. All of them had the same story to tell - non payment of salaries and ill-treatment by their sponsors. Not one of them had a clue of what was to be done, so they took the easy route of absconding and working illegally elsewhere, till they were caught. As their passports were with their original sponsor, they had no documentary proof and all of them were jailed and later deported.

Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia must definitely be aware of the following rights:

  • Timely and monthly payment of salaries as agreed upon and signed in the employment contract in the home country (Note: some of the expatriates are paid far less than what was agreed in their home countries and are forced to sign fresh contracts contrary to what was signed in their original ones once they arrive in the kingdom. This is clearly illegal).

  • The cost of the residence permit (iqama) issued soon after arrival, the cost of its renewal as well as the cost of renewing exit/re-entry visas as well as final exit visa are all the sponsor's responsibility. No expatriate should be forced to pay in either full or part of any of the above.

  • Fully paid vacation (unless otherwise agreed in the contract).

  • Free accommodation or equivalent amount as agreed in the contract

  • Free transportation from residence to place of work and back, or its equivalent amount as agreed in the contract

  • Free health care. Note that health insurance for every expatriate is compulsory and the cost of the same is to be borne by the sponsor.

  • Payment of End of Service benefits at the end of the contract

If any expatriate has genuine grievances on any of the above, he should contact what is known as "Expatriate Grievance Cell". This is a facility run by the Ministry of Labor, Government of Saudi Arabia. A letter in Arabic, detailing the nature of grievance and including the full name and address of the sponsor, must be faxed to 012104565. The letter must also have the full details of the complainants, including passport / iqama numbers and contact details.

I would also strongly advise such expatriates to get in touch with their respective embassies with a copy of the above fax. Usually, all embassies have a legal cell who would help them with an Arabic speaking lawyer in a labor court. Remember, all transactions in courts and all government departments are in Arabic, so getting professional help is a must. Also, do not wait for months together before deciding to make a complaint.

I really wish none of our expatriate brothers and sisters ever use the information above. But it helps to be informed.

Hope you found the above post useful.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Old wine in a new bottle!

This is probably not an appropriate title to use for a blog post from Saudi Arabia! Nevertheless, I thought it was apt for this particular post. Yes, your favorite blog has now got a brand new look.
Just thought that a third column was required to avoid clutter. Also added a few useful tools for your convenience. I am very keen to know your feedback. Do let me know your views on the new look of this site - great? lousy? just okay? - any comment is welcome from you, dear readers. Also, if you want me to add or delete something, I would do the same.
So, what are you waiting for? Just drop in your comments right away.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Government work in Ramadan and Hajj periods

A lot of potential expatriates planning to work in Saudi Arabia have been asking me various queries about Government-related work during Ramadan and Hajj periods. I thought I might as well write a post on it, because it is so important.

For those who are unfamiliar with the laws of Saudi Arabia, Ramadan is a month in Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The official working hours in all offices, both Government and private, is restricted to 6 hours for Muslim employees. Drinking, eating and smoking in public is strictly prohibited during this period, from dawn to dusk. This applies to all, irrespective of their faith.

It is common knowledge that normal work slows down during this period, as people would be fasting and the efficiency is much below usual. Hence, for any liaisoning work with government agencies, eg., passport, visa stamping, renewal, iqama, etc., one must take this into account. There are two official sets of holidays in Saudi Arabia. The first, called Eid-ul-Fitr falls at the end of the month of Ramadan. The second, called Eid-ul-Adha, or popularly known as Hajj holidays, falls approximately a couple of months after the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays.

Saudi embassies all over the world usually close 2 weeks before these two sets of holidays. So, expatriates who are processing their visa papers in their home countries must give adequate allowance for this. In particular, I would like to draw the attention of those who are processing visit visas (please check my earlier post on family visit visa from the archives on the right hand side of this blog).

As already mentioned earlier, once a visit visa is stamped by the Saudi embassy or consulate in your home country, the visitor must necessarily enter the kingdom within one month from the date of stamping. Otherwise, the visa would get cancelled automatically. If the visitor is going to enter the kingdom just a week after Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-Al-Adha holidays, care must be taken to submit the documents in the embassy just a week prior to the long closure of the embassy. Remember, if you submit too early, the visa would get cancelled if the visitor does not enter the kingdom within 30 days. If you submit too late, the embassy / consulate would be closed prior to the holidays.

In fact, visit visas to Muslims during Ramadan are not issued by the Saudi authorities because they discourage people coming on visit visas to perform 'Umrah'. For non-Muslims, only 1-month visit visas are issued in this period, which of course, can be renewed twice, each renewal of one month duration. It is another issue that some Muslim visitors do manage to do Umrah while on a visit visa, but officially this is prohibited. For those visitors who want to do Hajj, normally this is not allowed. In certain cases, special permission must be obtained after paying the required fees, otherwise they would not be allowed to even board the bus without a Hajj permit. In any event, everything is on a case to case basis, so one cannot generalize.

I would also advise those of you who are planning to process their family visas (permanent residence) to avoid submitting their documents during Ramadan or Hajj period because of the uncertainty and delays involved. Remember, the embassy would be so busy, particularly during Hajj period, that processing your family visa would be second priority.

And finally, do remember that all the dates with Government agencies are based on Islamic calendar and not Gregorian calendar. Please click this link to convert from one calendar to the other.

Hope this information was useful to you.