If there is one issue which is so close to any expatriate working in Saudi Arabia, it is the desire to bring his family to the kingdom. My heart goes out to my fellow expatriates who are staying without their families in the kingdom, like the lonely tree above. No other issue causes so much frustration, so much pain and so much anger than the fact that an expatriate cannot bring his family into the kingdom simply because the profession in his iqama does not allow him to do so.
I had covered the issue of profession in the iqama (click here) in an earlier post. There is this famous joke doing the rounds, of a lion in a Saudi zoo forced to eat peanuts, because he came on a monkey's visa! Nothing more could be more frustrating for a person, who cannot bring his family into the kingdom just because he holds an iqama with a non-supervisory profession. In other words, you could be a General Manager of a company, but if your iqama says that you are a painter, you cannot bring your family! Not only that, you cannot even sponsor your family on a visit visa (Click here to see the procedure of visit visa formalities, covered in my earlier post).
I have been repeatedly cautioning all potential expatriates about one thing: Don't be desparate to come to Saudi Arabia without your family. Life isn't all that easy here. It is a well-known fact that there are simply not enough visas in all categories. There are employers who simply bring skilled expatriates into the kingdom on whatever visa is available with a promise that once they arrive, they can bring their families. They are more concerned about running their business than anything else. There are also expats, unaware of the intricacies involved with the visa profession, come to the kingdom thinking that once they are here, they can always bring their families later on. When it later on dawns on them that they have a non-supervisory profession mentioned in their iqama, frustration begins to set in.
The anger and helplessness reaches its peak for those who are qualified and experienced, but are on a visa profession totally unrelated to their job. There was this famous case of a Principal of an International School who had to resign and go back, just because he was on a painter visa and hence could not sponsor his family. By the way, he was a professor with a Phd behind his name!
Changing the profession in an iqama is not at all an easy affair. This one particular post took me so long to write, because information on this was simply not available anywhere. To add to the misery, the list of professions which are barred from bringing their families keeps on changing frequently and to top it all, is not published in any public forum! The information that I have managed to collect in this particular post is based on first-hand experiences of colleagues and friends, who had to undergo a lot of hardships and finally could get their professions changed in the iqama. I just wish that atleast it makes life easy for other expats who want to change their professions too. A disclaimer: Don't ask me proof for what I am going to write below - there is just no information available anywhere else, so you have to just believe it! As I said earlier, it is based on experiences of my colleagues and is to be taken as a guideline.
First, the bad news. In case your profession in the iqama is mentioned as either 'Labor,Painter,Barber,Secretary,Mason,Plumber,Carpenter or Operator', you can straightaway stop reading further. There is no point in even going through this elaborate and really tedious procedure, because the authorities simply reject these cases. The only way is to go back to your country and return on a fresh visa. The list given here is also not exhaustive. I know it only from people who have been rejected before. No one knows for sure how many professions are barred and which those professions are!
If your visa profession is not any of the above, the next criterion is that you must be either a diploma or a degree holder. If you have crossed this hurdle, then the rest of the procedure is as follows:
Before we begin, a word of caution. This MUST be handled by your sponsor. Expatriates will not be usually entertained when they enter any Government office, so don't even waste your time. There are some sponsors who even charge their employees for this (for those in whose contract family status was not mentioned). The reason is not far to seek. The whole procedure is extremely tedious, time consuming and a big headache, so why would any sponsor help his employee when he is not obliged to do so? Be prepared for this also.
You must first get your diploma or degree certificate attested in your home country. Please read my earlier post (click here) on the procedure for attesting your certificate, in case you are an Indian national. For other nationalities, the procedure is more or less the same, except that it must be first attested by the Human Resources Ministry or its equivalent in your country before being counter-attested by the Saudi Embassy. Note that in case of Indian nationals, if you have completed your diploma in a private institute, it is not recognized and will not be attested by the HRD Ministry.
Next, bring this certificate to the kingdom. This has to be submitted to the Saudi Government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Don't confuse this with the passport office (Jawasat). That's different. A charge of SR30 (thanks to reader MSK for updating me) is levied for this and you will get the certificate back usually on the same day. What they do is just to put their rubber stamp as a counter-attestation to the one done by the Saudi Embassy in your country. By this time, the rear side of your original degree or diploma certificate would be full of stamps/seals/signatures, but don't bother!
Next, your sponsor has to make a letter in his official letterhead in Arabic and put his stamp and signature at the bottom of the letter. The letter should mention all your details, your current job title, your qualification and experience, etc. It must also mention how many Saudis are employed by your sponsor and in which categories. The letter must make a strong justification as to why your profession has to be changed, and also how there are no suitable Saudi citizens to fill in that position. This is the most important part of the letter.
Next, your sponsor must hire a lawyer. Of course, it costs money, and you may probably have to pay for this also if your contract does not mention family status, so be prepared for this also. This lawyer must now go to the Labor Court in your town, fill in a form in Arabic and submit it to the authorities. The court will collect the documents and will allocate a date and time. Usually this is about 2 to 3 months later.
Now comes the difficult part. At the appointed date and time, the Saudi lawyer must be present in the court well in advance. Every case is allocated a certain time, say 30 minutes or 45 minutes. In case the judge is already hearing another case and it prolongs beyond that time, then another date and time will be allocated to your lawyer. Again, it will usually be about 2 to 3 months later. The important part is that if the lawyer has forgotten any document, or something is missing, he will be sent back and will be asked to appear again at another hearing, which will be a few months later.
Finally, when the time does come, the judge will scrutinize all documents. The lawyer must convincingly argue that you are indeed required and that there is no Saudi citizen available to fill up that particular position. If the court is convinced, they will put their seal on the Arabic form which was submitted.
This form has to be sumitted to the passport office (Jawasat). After paying a nominal fee, the passport office will put their stamp in your iqama after making the required changes in the system. Usually this would take about 15 days.
The whole process takes about 7 to 9 months, if everything goes smoothly.
If despite all this, you are unable to bring your family, then maybe it is time to draw a line and set right your priorities. It is better to go back and be with your family than continuing to suffer in silence. You are qualified and experienced and the world is full of opportunities, you should not worry about losing your job. There is always another one around.
Hope this post was useful.