Labor Laws Concerning Migrants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The following document is in reference to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Labor Law that governs workers in the private sectors. If you work in a private company, you are entitled to receive the rights guaranteed by the labor Law.
There are exceptions. If you are a domestic worker (working in a private house as a maid or gardener), a sea worker, a Non-Saudi worker entering the Kingdom to perform a specific task for a period not exceeding two months, you do not fall under the protection of the labor Law. This means in terms of work, you are only protected by what is mentioned in the contract with the employer, which is enforceable through a civil court.
Section I: Labor Laws for Private Sector Workers
1. What are the requirements for obtaining a Work Visa for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
To obtain a visa, employees will need to have a sponsor in Saudi Arabia. The sponsoring employer is responsible for most of the application process, but the prospective employee will need to supply all the essential documents.
The following documents are required on the worker’s behalf to obtain an employment visa:
- A passport that will be valid for the duration of employment
- A passport-sized photograph, in color
- Proof of online payment of the visa fee through the Enjazat website
- A completed visa application
- Three copies of a signed medical report
- A letter of employment from the sponsoring company in Saudi Arabia, which must be certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Saudi Chamber of Commerce
- A signed copy of the employment contract
- A certified copy of the applicant’s university diploma, which must be validated by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission
- A police report of any criminal record
- An addressed, prepaid envelope
2. What are the steps of the application process?
The employer must begin the work visa application process. The sponsoring employer must be registered with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior.
The Ministry will open an immigration file with information regarding all of the employer’s expatriate workers.
The employer will lodge an application for a work visa with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labor.
Once the application is approved, the Ministry of Labor will notify the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within two weeks, the Ministry of Foreign affairs will issue a Visa Authorization Number.
The employee will submit their employment visa application to the relevant Saudi Arabian embassy, along with the documents listed in the previous section (see FAQ #1). The embassy will issue the visa within one to three weeks, after which the employee can travel to Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, the employee must apply for a residency permit, or Iqama, through the Ministry of Labor (see FAQ #7). The Ministry of Labor will forward the approved application to the Ministry of Interior, where the Iqama will be issued through the Directorate General for Passports. Employees should carry their Iqama at all times in order to prove that they are legally allowed to live and work in Saudi Arabia.
If the employee would like to travel in and out of Saudi Arabia during the duration of their employment, they will need to apply for an Exit/Re-Entry Permit through the Ministry of Interior. This permit is generally issued within one week (See FAQ #15).
3. What should the employment contract include?
Subject to Article (37) of the Labor Law, the Ministry of Labor shall issue a unified form for the work contract, which shall primarily include the name of the employer, venue, the name of the employee, nationality, identification documents, wage agreed upon including any benefits, residence, date of employment and duration of the contract if fixed.
The work contract for non-Saudis shall be written and of a definite term. If the contract does not specify the term, the term of the work permit shall be deemed as the duration of the contract.
The work contract shall be in duplicates, one copy to be retained by each of the two parties. However, a contract shall be deemed to exist even if not written. In this case the employee alone may establish the contract and his entitlements arising there from by all methods of proof. Either party may at any time demand that the contract be in writing. As for employees of the government and public corporations, the appointment decision or order issued by the competent authority shall serve as the contract.
4. Is there a minimum wage by law?
Saudi Arabia does not have a minimum wage by law. However, in order for a Saudi worker to be taken into account in the points system of the Nitaqat (Saudi employment nationalization program), they must receive a monthly wage of no less than SAR 4,000.
Wages must be paid monthly through the Wage Protection System to an accredited bank.
According to Article 107 of the Labor Law, overtime wage is paid at a rate of 150% of the basic hourly wage. All working hours spent during holidays will be considered as overtime hours
5. Should I be charged recruitment fees for applying/securing an employment offer?
No. The employer shall pay for the recruitment fees (as well as the residence permit and work permit fees) of the worker. If the employer charges the employee with the costs that the employer must bear, the former is fined with SAR 10,000 per worker, according to the Ministerial Order No. 178743 of 1440 (2019). [See list of fines in English and Arabic]
6. What is an Iqama?
An iqama is a residence permit. The local employer applies and secures the work permit and iqama so that the employee can legally work and live in the KSA. The employer is considered the local sponsor. An iqama is issued to expatriates who arrive in KSA with an employment visa.
7. What are the necessary documents and permits I need to obtain after accepting an employment offer?
Saudi Arabia follows a sponsorship (Kafala) system for regulating employment of expatriate workers. Any expatriate worker entering the Kingdom requires sponsorship of a sponsor (known as Kafeel), who may be a Saudi citizen or a company, and shall remain under the sponsor’s responsibility during the term of the employment contract.
Any person aged between 18 and 60 years, physically fit and possessing professional and academic qualifications required by the Kingdom (provided there is a shortage of citizens holding such qualifications) or belonging to those categories of workers needed by the Kingdom, may be employed in Saudi Arabia. Such a person holding a passport with at least 6 months validity, should have entered the country legally and have an employment contract with an employer under whose responsibility he shall remain during the term of the contract.
8. What are the maximum and minimum legal working hours for workers?
The maximum legal working hours for Private sector workers are eight hours per day, or 48 hours per week. Workers are entitled to 30-minute breaks for rest, prayer and meals for every five hours worked.
There are exceptions to this rule. The number of working hours may be raised to nine hours, and in certain cases to a maximum of 10 hours, per day.
During the month of Ramadan, the working hours for Muslims shall be reduced to 6 hours per day, or 36 hours per week.
Working outdoors is prohibited between 12.00pm and 3.00pm in summer, usually from 15 June through 15 September, except for oil and gas workers. There is a dedicated hotline to report violations of this rule.
9. Can my employer confiscate my passport for the duration of my employment contract?
No. It is prohibited for employers to confiscate migrant workers’, or their family members’ passports. Such confiscation is subject to 5,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (SAR) (US $1,300) fine. This fine also applies to an employer confiscating the Iqama or the health insurance of the employee and his or her family members.
The fine was established under the Saudi Arabian Council of Ministers Decision No. 166 of 1421 (2000) Regulating Relations between Migrant Workers and Their Employers and was later increased in 2019 by Ministerial Decision No. 178743 of 1440 (2019) approving the table of violations and corresponding penalties to the Implementing Regulations of the labor Law (available in Arabic).
10. What should I do if I have a complaint, or have questions regarding my rights?
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development has set up a toll-free hotline (19911) where the workers can register their grievances in multiple languages including English, Hindi/Urdu and Malayalam and are provided appropriate advice for further follow up with concerned labor Offices. Free mobile SIM cards with credit balance for calls/SMS are being given to all expatriate workers on their arrival at airports in Saudi Arabia. (This may be collected at the airport on arrival).
labor Courts in Saudi Arabia can hear disputes related to employment contracts, rights, injuries, compensation, termination and social insurance claims. If there is no amicable settlement, a case can be brought before a labor Court. According to an announcement made by the Ministry of Justice, labor claims should not take more than 30 days from the date of the first hearing for a judgment to be issued.
There exists a dedicated website established by the Ministry of labor for educating expatriate labor about labor laws, duties and obligations of worker and the employer, and where to seek assistance in case of difficulty, etc.
11. Am I allowed to join a trade union or labor union?
Trade unions are not permitted in Saudi Arabia. The labor Law permits the establishment of worker councils for Saudi nationals only. Saudi nationals are allowed to form workers’ committees in workplaces that employ more than 100 (Saudi workers). However, migrant workers are not allowed to join such committees.
12. What is the process for resolving disputes between workers and employers?
Before filing a claim with the labor Court, a claim must be filed for amicable resolution with the local labor Office.
This can be done electronically through the MHRSD. The Amicable Settlement Department will set two sessions for the dispute to be negotiated between the parties. If the defendant does not attend after two requests, the MHRSD will contact him/her via the police. If the parties are present yet no settlement is reached, the case will then be transferred to the labor Court.
If there is a settlement between the parties, the report issued by the Amicable Settlement Department is recognized as a legally “enforceable document.” In case of non-compliance by either party, the enforcement judge may issue an invoice that is sent to the party. If they do not settle the invoice within five days, they shall be subject to various penalties, including a travel ban.
The parties cannot raise any of the issues that were covered by the settlement in a new claim.
labor Courts in Saudi Arabia can hear disputes related to employment contracts, rights, injuries, compensation, termination, and social insurance claims. If there is no amicable settlement, a case can be brought before a labor Court. According to an announcement of the Ministry of Justice, labor claims should not take more than 30 days from the date of the first hearing for a judgment to be issued.
13. What is the process of changing jobs within the country?
As of March 2021, the newly established Labor Reforms mandated the creation of an Employee Mobility Service. This service stipulates that migrant workers who fall under the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia’s labor law can change jobs without their current employer’s consent after completing one year of their contract or once their contract expires. The new employer must submit a job offer through the Qiwa platform and the notice period must be complied with.
According to the ministry-issued Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) Services Guidebook, other situations in which a migrant worker can change jobs without conditions include: if the worker’s work permit expires; if the worker is not paid for three consecutive months; and if a labor dispute arises and the employer fails to attend two litigation hearings.
In case the worker wishes to switch jobs during the first year of their contract with the current employer, they must obtain the approval of the employer in order to do so.
14. What is the procedure I must follow in order to travel to my home country? Do I need to re-apply for a visa to re-enter the country?
As of March 2021, the newly established Labor Reforms mandate an Automatic Exit and Re-entry Visa. Using this service, an employee may submit an online request through the Absher platform, for an exit and re-entry visa or a final exit visa from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. The guidebook states that they must have a valid residency permit, a duly attested employment contract, and a valid passport. The Saudi authorities may deny exit if any debts or fines are outstanding.
The employer is not entitled to cancel a worker’s Automatic Exit and Re-entry Visa. Only the worker can cancel the visa issued for themselves and their dependents during its validity. Moreover, the service mandates that the worker, not the employer, must bear any fees related to this visa, which currently costs SR200 (USD 53). According to the guidelines, the employer is notified when the migrant worker submits a request and has 10 days to lodge an inquiry into the request.
The exit and re-entry visa lasts 30 days, and a migrant worker cannot independently request multiple-use visas. Only the employer can extend that time period, and a migrant worker who does not return within 30 days is permanently banned from working in Saudi Arabia. A migrant worker who leaves Saudi Arabia using a final exit visa before the end of their contract is also permanently banned.
Section II: COVID-19 Related Developments in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
1. Providing health insurance for migrant workers prior to their arrival is mandatory for recruiting companies or institutions. A royal decree extended access to free emergency services and to COVID-19 testing and treatment for migrant workers in an irregular situation.
2. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia extended work and residence permits/visas that expire during lockdowns. This is expected to continue in the case of future lockdowns.