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Jun 12 2011

Saudi Arabia: Labor Ministry outlines details of Nitaqat program

By SIRAJ WAHAB DAMMAM: The Labor Ministry announced on Saturday that private companies in the green and premium categories the companies who are abiding by Saudization rules or who have exceptional track records in this regard would enjoy a lot of benefits and incentives from Sept. 10 for their efforts in employing more Saudis.

It said companies would be able to know their position by visiting the ministry's website www.mol.gov.sa.

"We'll also provide regular information under the name 'Keys to Success' that would assist companies to keep themselves in safe positions and help them enjoy the program's benefits and incentives," the ministry said. It said companies in the yellow category would be given a grace period of nine months and those in the red category six months to improve their status by hiring more Saudis before facing punitive measures. Yellow companies will not be able to extend their foreign employees' work visas beyond six years, which takes effect retroactively. Red companies will not be able to renew their foreign workers' visas.

Meanwhile, the business community reacted with caution to the new regulations.

Those who found their companies in the red zone were apprehensive while those in the green and blue category were exultant.

Khalid A. Al-Abdulkarim, CEO of Alkhobar-based Al-Abdulkarim Holding Co ., was delighted because his company was listed in the blue zone which is a VIP category.

"I am very happy but not surprised. We have on our rolls more than 1,500 employees, and we started implementing Saudization a long time ago," he told Arab News. "Today, we are being paid for those efforts."

The Nitaqat program, he said, is excellent. "So far so good. But there will definitely be glitches. There will be companies which may have not been listed correctly for want of complete paperwork. Nothing is going to happen immediately. This is just a report card," he said. "The companies will have enough time to correct their positions."

Sultan Al-Shamsi, a construction company manager, was upset. "I see that my company is in the red zone. I have been getting constant calls from my employees who have seen their status by punching in their iqama number in the Ministry of Labor's website. I refused to answer their calls and will see how we can employ more Saudis to get out of this difficult situation we now find ourselves in," he told Arab News.

According to Al-Abdulkarim, those in the VIP category or blue zone will be entitled to a number of benefits. "We have been told that since we are in the blue zone, we can hire anybody from any part of the world. We don't even have to wait to go to the Labor Office to apply for visas. We can just log onto the website and get the visas in a second. We have been exempted from what business community calls the monkey business to get visas. So there are incentives for those who met the Saudization targets."

He said there was no blanket percentage for determining the color zoning. "In companies that are labor intensive such as the construction companies the percentage of Saudis was fixed at mere 10 percent. So for example, if a construction company does not have 10 percent Saudis on its rolls then it will find itself in the red category. Similarly, in banks, the Saudi percentage was put at 70 percent. So the ministry has taken into consideration where Saudization is possible and where it is difficult. Earlier it was being thought that there would a universal scale for all companies. That is not the case."

Companies in the premium category will be able to recruit foreign workers unless they fall below the green level and do not apply for such visas more than once every two months.

This facility will be available in Riyadh from June 18 and in other offices after June 25.

They will also get new visas with open professions through the electronic system, based on the number of visas they used to get before. They can also change professions of their workers even to those that are restricted to Saudis, except jobs such as employment officials, receptionists, government liaison officials, treasury staff, and security officers.

Premier companies will also be allowed transfer of visas and change of profession of their foreign workers, but the service would be available only once every two months. They can get the transfer of visas of employees from other companies, without fulfilling the condition of completing two years with the first employee. They are also entitled to get a one-year respite if their municipal and professional licenses or commercial registrations were expired. Such companies can recruit employees in Red category and transfer their visas without the permission of their employers.

In a previous statement, the ministry had allayed fears of expatriate workers in the Kingdom and said the new Nitaqat program was not aimed at driving them out of the Kingdom.

"The Nitaqat is not designed nor intended to threaten the stability of guest workers in the Kingdom," the statement emphasized, adding that the robust demand for foreign labor is not going away in the foreseeable future. "The Ministry of Labor recognizes the role played -- and continues to be played -- by guest workers in the development of the country and appreciates their efforts in all fields and specialties," the statement added.

With regard to the benefits to be availed of by the companies in the green category, the ministry said they can apply for new visas once every two months and are entitled to one visa for every two expatriates gone on exit-only visas. They can change professions of their foreign workers except to those restricted to Saudis. They will also be given six-month grace period after the expiry of their zakat and revenue certificates. They will be allowed to renew the work permits of their workers but their iqamas should have a validity of at least three months at the time of renewal. They will be allowed to recruit employees in red and yellow categories and transfer their visas without the approval of their employers.

Companies in the yellow category cannot apply for new visas from Sept. 10 and will be allowed to get only one visa after the departure of two expatriates and will be prevented from transfer of visas and change of professions. However, they will be allowed to renew the work permits of their workers, on condition that their workers should not have completed more than six years in the Kingdom. They will not have any control on their workers as they would be allowed to move to companies in higher categories.

Companies in the red category will be banned from change of profession, transfer of visas, issuance of new visas and opening files for new branches. However, they will be allowed to renew the work permits of their workers until Muharram 1, 1433 when they will also lose control on their workers.

© Arab News 2011


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