For expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, the recent announcement of the 3-year ban on those who fail to return to kingdom before the expiry of re-entry visa has caused more confusion than clarity.
The Director of Public Relations of the passport department recently announced that those expatriates who left the kingdom on a re-entry visa but who did not return before the expiry date would not be allowed to enter the kingdom for a period of three years. This move was supposed to have been taken to prevent people "from returning and working with another sponsor". If you read between the lines, one can understand that this is just one more routine rhetoric.
This was not something new because in any case you needed to have a fresh visa to return to the kingdom to work with another sponsor. And it is common sense that a fresh visa would not be issued unless any existing visa is cancelled, which cannot happen if a person had left on a re-entry visa. The only possibility of this happening is a person waiting till the end of his iqama's expiry and then applying for a fresh visa. Any sane person who left his former employer willingly would never do that, knowing fully well that his ex-employer would have immediately filed a 'huroob' (absconder) report which would effectively block the expat from returning. All of this is already in practice, so this announcement is nothing really new.
What has taken a few expatriates, particularly those who have recently come to the kingdom, by surprise is the doubt that genuine cases might get affected. For example, what would happen if an expatriate went on vacation or leave and could not return due to some unexpected event like death or sudden illness? What about families who cannot return on time? These are some of the questions being asked. Fortunately, there is already a little known provision in the immigration rules to overcome such situations and this blog is only pleased to bring them to the attention of its readers. In fact, this topic was covered much earlier, but I would like to bring a quick recap of the same for the benefit of expats who have come to the kingdom in recent years.
First and foremost, all is not lost. Everything depends on your sponsor and the passport office comes into picture only after the issue is raised to that level by the sponsor. For example, let us take a genuine case when an employee goes on vacation and is unable to return by the expiry date of his re-entry visa. He has to immediately contact his sponsor and explain to him the circumstances under which he was unable to return. More importantly, he has to send a copy of his iqama and passport to his sponsor. A copy of his exit/re-entry visa would also be of help. The next steps are to be taken by the sponsor.
If the sponsor is really interested in getting you back, he can. There is a form specifically for this in the passport office. The sponsor has to fill this in and submit along with copies of what I have stated above. Once this is done, the passport office will scrutinize the same and will issue a "yellow slip". This is nothing but permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for you to return. The sponsor needs to send this yellow slip to you.
The next steps are very important. You need to submit this yellow slip along with copies of your iqama, your expired exit/re-entry visa and your passport to the Saudi embassy or consulate in your country. They will scrutinize these documents and will put their stamp on your passport. You need to arrive in the kingdom within 7 days including the date of this stamp. If you once again let it lapse, you can never return to the kingdom. I have given details of this in my earlier post written way back in 2007 (click here to read the same).
As mentioned in my previous post (click here), I always advise expats working in Saudi Arabia to keep hard copies of their exit/re-entry visas, despite the passport office saying that it is not mandatory. And ensure that your iqama is renewed well before its due date.
On another note, there are always cases where frustrated expats leave on exit/re-entry visa and never return. For them, this is a great way to get away from their sponsors' clutches. And irrespective of whether they are banned for 3 years or not, it is obvious that most of them would not like to return. And for those who do want to return, they should be ready to face the music because, make no mistake, their sponsors would undoubtedly flag them as absconders in the system. Because unless they do this, they would not be able to bring another expat using the same visa.
The bottom line is, when will this modern-day slavery of exit/re-entry ever end? In countries like Oman, people get to keep their passports and can simply leave whenever they want to. It does not make sense to keep an unhappy employee forcibly and it is a natural tendency for such employees to wait for the next available opportunity to leave the kingdom for good (shamelessly branded as "escapees" by the English language media in the kingdom). The day when this exit/re-entry visa is abolished is truly the day of true reform.