A labor reform initiative (LRI) was launched by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development on November 4, 2020. The purpose behind this was to make changes to the present sponsorship system that lays down rules and regulations for foreign worker mobility in Saudi Arabia.

Previously, when the reforms had not been administered, those workers who came from foreign lands and had been sponsored by their employers needed their permission if they wanted to switch jobs, open a bank account, leave the country, or take part in any other administrative tasks.

However, the LRI is set to make many changes to immigration laws, as well as existing labor laws:

Labor Law Reform

By March 14, 2021, employment relationships will be changed as per Resolution No. 51848/1442. It primarily targets the mobility of employees. Saudi Arabia’s new reforms mean that laborers no longer need the permission of their employers if they want to leave their jobs once their employment contract has expired. They can also switch jobs if their previous employment contract has not expired, as long as they have been in Saudi Arabia for a year and have given notice 90 days before to their employer.

The new reforms also allow migrant workers, under certain conditions, to switch jobs within the first year of employment. An electronic portal has also been established so that employees and employers can provide updates on notifications, job offers, and request transfers – all without the permission of the kafeels (“sponsors”) in Saudi Arabia.

Entry and Exit Requirements

The labor reform initiative takes into consideration the entry as well as the exit requirements for any foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. In previous years, no foreign worker could step foot in Saudi Arabia without getting an exit and re-entry visa that could only be issued by their employer. Now, the new labor reforms do not require the permission of previous employers to leave the country or re-enter it.

The LRI allows employees to send in a request through the online platform provided by the Saudi government. If the employee needs to pay any debts or fines, exit may be denied. Once the request has been approved, an automatic notification will be sent to the employer whenever his worker leaves and re-enters Saudi Arabia.

Initially, the immigration policy in Saudi Arabia required the employer to sign off on an exit visa so that workers could go back to their homeland. However, the new reforms ensure that the permission of employers is no longer needed.

The reforms allow things to become easier for employees as restrictions are reduced, and entry and exit requirements are not as strict as they used to be. However, amendments to immigration laws still need to be worked on. The LRI will also ensure there is less human trafficking and exploitation and more transparency in the private sector so that workers are kept safe and healthy and given their full rights.

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