Firms get five days to appeal iqama transfer

Passport and labor officials check documents of expat workers during a campaign in Al-Ahsa on Tuesday. (SPA)

Passport and labor officials check documents of expat workers during a campaign in Al-Ahsa on Tuesday. (SPA)

The Ministry of Labor is now giving private sector companies five days to object to any proposed sponsorship transfer involving their employees before information is sent to the Ministry of Interior to finalize the process.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Labor Tayseer Al-Mufaraj said the government “is keen to protect the relationship between the employer and the employee and ensure the protection of the rights of both parties.”

The ministry has set criteria under which expatriate employees have the right to transfer sponsorship without getting the permission from their employer based on the Nitaqat system, which aims to improve job Saudization.

The new objection period has been implemented based on feedback the ministry received, said Al-Mufaraj.

“This will give more time to prevent any issues that result from the transfer of expatriates without the knowledge of the sponsor.”

If the worker is new and his company is in the yellow or red zone or if the employer delayed issuing a work license or iqama (work permit) within three months of his arrival to the Kingdom, then the employee has the right to look for another sponsor as long as it meets certain Nitaqat criteria, said the spokesman.

If the worker is able to find a sponsor then he can immediately transfer his sponsorship to the new employer.

The process starts by sending the file to the Ministry of Labor, which in turn refers it to the Passports Department (Jawazat).

In case the worker is not able to find a new sponsor during the first three months of his arrival to the Kingdom, she or he can transfer sponsorship to recruitment companies or offices. This, said Al-Mufarij, will help others to benefit from these workers.

A worker who is not able to get a new sponsor is considered by law to be carrying an illegal iqama and has the right to demand compensation and payment of salary from his sponsor.

Amal Al-Hamoud, owner of a beauty salon in Taif, said she is worried about her business.

“I was recruiting 10 women on a part-time basis, only one of which was Saudi. Many left their jobs after the amnesty period (for workers to correct their status if they needed to).

“Afterward, I was still struggling to provide iqamas for a few expatriates. “However, with the new system I am not sure if they will just leave or not.”

Al-Hamoud said five days are just not enough notice for her company, which is in the red zone. “This decision, like all those of the Ministry of Labor, has the aim of closing down all small businesses.”

She said even after meeting her Saudization quota she still cannot recruit non-Saudis except after three months of hiring the nationals.

“The moment we familiarize ourselves with a new system and adjust, a new regulation pops up.”

Haitham Al-Sulaim, a human resource manager at a contracting company, believes allowing employees to transfer from one company to another is harmful to the initial sponsor.

The employee, he said, will be able to reveal work secrets and not hesitate to leave the company any time she or he gets a better offer.

He added this decision allows workers to manipulate the system and avoid contractual obligations.

He wanted employers to get at least three months’ notice so they could adjust and negotiate with the employee before making a final decision.

“This is crucial for both parties, as companies can provide a better offer, fix their status or at least look for another employee.”


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