Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labour has announced that it will introduce restrictions on sponsorship transfer of expat employees in order to curb visa trade in the country.
In a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the Ministry of Labour said that it will set a limit on the number of workers each firm is permitted to transfer within 12 months of recruitment.
Companies violating the rules will be barred from transferring the sponsorship of any workers for the next 12 months, a senior labour ministry official said.
The labour ministry’s director of media Taysir Al-Mofrej said that many firms were hiring expat workers and transferring their sponsorship within the next few months.
He argued these companies were trying to mislead the ministry and trading work visas to other firms.
However, transfer of sponsorship will be allowed in certain conditions, Al Mofrej added.
“Some workers may not be fit for the job for which they were originally hired, and in other cases workers may not be able to cope with the working conditions, or there may be some other factors, including humanitarian reasons,” he said.
Al Mofrej said that contractors working on government projects will be exempt from the sponsorship transfer rules. He did not specify a reason for the exemption.
Saudi Arabia, which is home to almost 10 million foreigners, has imposed stricter visa terms for expat workers in a bid to improve employment in the local population.
This includes the introduction of the Nitaqat system, which regulates the number of foreign workers a company can employ.
Although officials claim these measures have brought the kingdom’s unemployment rate down marginally, to almost 11.4 per cent from 12 per cent in 2011, private sector firms say that their operations have been affected.
They argue that the majority of the local population is reluctant to take up jobs in the private sector due to longer working hours and comparatively lower pay than government jobs.