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After the introduction of “Saudization” in late 2018, which blocked expats from taking up certain roles within the private sector, as well as additional taxes being levied on the dependents of foreign workers, things felt as if they were getting restrictive for those coming from overseas.
There have been recent updates to labour laws, however, which are designed to make things simpler and more liberating for expats working in Saudi Arabia.
The new Saudi labour law changes for workers
Previously, if a foreign worker relocated to Saudi Arabia, they would be contracted to their employer on a work visa for a minimum of 12 months. During this time, they were unable to change jobs or transfer their work visa.
New legislation has been introduced which now makes this possible within the first 12 months of the expat’s time in Saudi, provided they are able to get permission from their current employer in order to make the move.
Before the changes, things could also be difficult when an employee came to the end of their contracted period with a company, as they would require permission to be released from their employment in order to take up a new post elsewhere.
This has also now been overhauled, allowing workers the right to be automatically released from employment contracts at the end of the agreed period and take up a new position with a new company without needing permission.
There are certain conditions which must be met, however. It’s imperative that “the worker has to notify the current employer about the transfer within a period of no less than 90 days before the end of the contractual relationship, unless the two parties agree otherwise.”
The employer must also ensure that the regulations set out in the “Nitaqat Saudization program” are still followed.
Another big change relates to travel in and out of Saudi. Previously, if a foreign worker wanted to travel outside of the Kingdom for leisure or to visit family, they’d need to seek permission of their employer to do so. This process has had a massive shake-up and a new digital portal and app (Absher) have been developed to allow employees to apply directly to the government for their exit and re-entry visas. Their employer is simply notified once a visa has been granted, making it easier for individuals to travel home when they wish, within the scope of their contracts.
How will this affect expat workers in Saudi and those looking to move there?
These new freedoms will undoubtedly attract new talent to Saudi Arabia, with the ability to advance ones career more freely and without the previous restrictions. Before the changes were introduced, moving employer after a contract had ended could cause difficulties for the employee when seeking their current employer’s official approval.
This could slow things down dramatically if the individual had decided to move on, waiting for paperwork to be approved and even worse, come up against disputes between parties. With more control in the hands of employees, this new flexibility in the jobs market will likely see a boost in competition for talent.
With the ability to leave Saudi more easily to visit family or to holiday, this will also be a huge bonus. Before, the process of seeking the employers approval could be slow and cumbersome, but now that worry is removed.
Saudi Arabia is working hard to eradicate all forms of discrimination and inequality in the workplace and with these changes is making huge steps. The working conditions and opportunities available to expat workers are seeing many ongoing improvements in order to achieve this.
What are other changes which will effect employers?
There have been labour law changes during the rollout of “version 2” of the Saudization program, simplifying things for employers. In order to meet the government’s targets, employers must employ a set amount of Saudi nationals based on the size of the business. To make it easier for companies to understand and meet their quotas, a new formula has been introduced which takes into account the size of the business as a whole, rather than on a local level.
The job roles which are affected by the Saudization rules have also been condensed from 85 classes into 32. By reclassifying positions with similar job descriptions, it can make it much easier for employers to organise their work force with the quotas in mind.
As well as these direct changes aimed at supporting companies with their hiring, the changes made for employees will also have a benefit for employers. With the improved working conditions, Saudi continues to grow it’s reputation as a leading destination for career development.
This is a huge boost for the country which is keen to attract some of the best talent from around the globe in order to achieve its ambitions.