If there is a single issue which causes immense heartburn, anxiety and expectation among expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, it could be none other than the excuriating process of obtaining a family visa. This blog has covered extensively (click here) in the past the foolishness of linking a person's visa profession for deciding on whether he could sponsor his family or not.
My earlier post (click here) written way back in 2009 was compiled with a lot of difficulty, mostly based on first-hand experiences, simply because no one would even guide properly on how to go about changing the profession in the Iqama. Worse still, there was no online link where people could go and see for themselves. The entire system was, and is still so opaque and has probably been deliberately designed to extremely complicate what was supposed to be a simple and straight forward procedure.
The Saudi Government's Ministry of Interior has now tried to (rather unsuccessfully) lift some of that opacity by giving certain broad guidelines. While most of them are well-known, the most important one is that there has to be an approval from the Ministry of Labor for change in the visa profession. No guideline in the website on how to do this. Other conditions include a valid iqama, no absconding (huroob) status (MOI calls them as "runaways"!) and no pending traffic violations against the employee as well as current and new sponsors. Surprisingly, the MOI website also has a link for effecting the transfer (click here for the registration form and here for requesting the service from MOI ).
No, don't be elated at this, just as I was when I first saw it. If you thought that by filling this form and pressing the 'submit' button you are done, you are mistaken. The fine print says that you will not be able to use this form by just registering. You will have to personally go to the concerned office, show physical proof of identity and then "upgrade" yourself to be eligible to use this form. Some big help! It is common knowledge how next to impossible it is for expats to visit any Government office without his Government Relations Officer and even worse if he cannot speak Arabic. What a big let down after being led to believe that things have changed for the better. So here we are back to Square One.
There is a fee for each "service" and the more I read it, the more I am convinced that this whole thing is a big money-making exercise and nothing more. Why can't there be a single-window clearance for profession change? Why is it required for people to shuttle from one Ministry to the other, just to do a simple paperwork? And more fundamentally, why even link the iqama profession to set the eligibility for bringing one's family into the kingdom, when common sense says that any expat would bring his family only if can afford to do so? Will this system ever see real reform?