Work Visas, Iqama Cards, and Banking in Saudi Arabia
Deciding to work in Saudi Arabia can be a daunting but an advantageous decision. For one, the benefits of tax free salaries, fantastic health care, subsidized housing, and tier one schools all seem superbly attractive. BUT there is an old, devious sponsorship program known as kafeel in Arabic which can be attributed to most complaints filed by expatriates.
The system has a direct correlation with your Iqama card which is the term used for residence permit in Saudi Arabia. The Iqama is like a driver license for US citizens and lists your address, name, sponsor number for your visa, and a few other miscellaneous things.
All things that happen within the confines of Saudi Arabia are linked to this Iqama card. So in reality it is the most important document you will have on your person. However, the oversight and technical matters of your Iqama card lie with your sponsor or host. This is where things become tricky and the issues of pay, status, and legal action begin to take place.
Keeping your Iqama in correct status is up to the sponsor. So if your sponsor happens to default on a government transaction, i.e. payment, goods, or furnishing services; any and all employees under the sponsor’s host number will be flagged in the system. In layman terms this means even if something entirely unrelated to you happens to your sponsor, you will be AFFECTED.
Now what does this mean? Absolutely nothing while you are in Saudi, but when you go to the airport, a big monstrosity of a problem. The E gate authorities will pull you aside, hold your Iqama, issue a fine, or make it impossible for you to renew your Iqama under the same sponsor.
This is where the real problems begin. The moment your Iqama is not renewed, your bank account will be placed in active and all funds are hold. You will not be able to withdraw, use your MCT card, or draft on your account until the issue is resolved. And the worst part is this issues is entirely up to the sponsor to fix.
How to get around this problem? These handy tips can ensure you are at least able to retain your finances. First and foremost, before you furnish your Iqama card for renewal it is highly advised to withdraw any and all funds from each respected account. You will be asked to complete a release form and just state a simplistic reason why you decided to close your account. You will want to take your cash and make sure you put it somewhere safe, i.e in your home in a safe. Or wire the money through Western Union out of KSA. Second, as soon as troubles arise, file a complaint with the labor office, stating a non-compliant sponsor. This will at least get your grievance on record. It is not a guarantee they will be able to alleviate the situation. But it will:
- Inform the Ministry that your sponsor has defaulted
- Will give you written documentation to show to the various immigration checkpoints
- Help you with any banking, schooling, or housing issues
Once you have completed this step, the sponsor will contact you and may ask or try to pressure you to withdraw the complaint. As long as said sponsor has a complaint filed against them; they will not be able to bring any more workers under their sponsor number.
I highly recommend you do not withdraw your complaint until the issues have been resolved with the Immigration Officials. If the sponsor is unwilling to concede and rectify the situation, you may be eligible to file with the Primary Commission which is similar to a Federal Court in US terms. This commission has the high ruling and will dictate the outcome of the case. If you are not satisfied with the result of the case, you may file with the Supreme Commission, which is equivalent to a Supreme Court. Their ruling is final and no amendments can be made.
It is very important to take all aspects of the situation into consideration. You do not want to spoil a relationship with a sponsor as they may know others in the same industry which will make it near impossible to work in KSA. Also, if money is still owed to you from the sponsor, it will highly be unlikely the rest of the funds will be paid. Lastly, you will do not want to spoil the chance of getting a final exit stamp on your passport. This is the single most important stamp if you decide to apply for another work visa in Saudi Arabia.