Kafala (Sponsorship) System in Saudi Arabia

It is very important to understand Kafeel system in Saudi Arabia if you are planning to come to this country. You need to be under sponsorship (Kafala) of one Sponsor if you are living here. This Sponsor can be an individual, a partnership business or a company.

You need permission from your Sponsor to enter to Saudi Arabia, leave the country for temporary or permanent basis, rent a house, buy a car on lease, borrow loan from a bank, open bank account and the list is unlimited. Legal requirements change every now and then in Saudi Arabia which creates problems for expatriates.

Entering to Saudi Arabia: Entering to Saudi Arabia for job purpose is not possible legally without the involvement of Sponsor. There are some other ways of entering Saudi Arabia which is not legal so we are not discussing them here. Normally companies hire you from your native countries and send a visa to an agent authorized by you.

You pass your medical test from an approved laboratory in your native country and present this report to your agent. I have published a detailed article on the subject of “List of Medical Tests for Saudi Visa“. After that agent processes, the visa and you reach here in the Holy Land.

If you look at your passport, your visa is valid for only 3 months. Don’t be afraid, this is actually the probation period you need to complete before getting your residence permit. You will have to go through a certain procedure which is covered in this article to apply for your first Iqama.

If your Sponsor does not make your Iqama within 3 months, you have the right to look for another job and transfer the sponsorship even without his consent.

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Iqama (Residence Permit): Resident permit in Saudi Arabia is called Iqama. Every expatriate must have an Iqama. After entering to Saudi Arabia, you can live for only first 3 months without Iqama. After that, you would be treated as illegal.

The legal requirement is that if your Sponsor is satisfied from you, he can issue you Iqama even for less than 3 months i.e probation period. In order to process an Iqama, you need to surrender your passport to your Sponsor. It is not advisable to travel to some other city if you don’t have your Iqama or Passport with a valid visa.

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Exit Re-Entry Visa: Labor Law in Saudi Arabia provides minimum 21 leave days to each employee per annum. If you have completed five years with one Sponsor, you are entitled to 30 leave days per annum. (Entitled Leaves for Employees as per Saudi Labor Law)

Moreover, your employer is responsible for ticketing expenses to your home country. Only your Sponsor can issue you Exit Re-Entry visa cost of which is SR 200 for your Sponsor. However, you can issue exit re-entry visa for your family. Exit Re-Entry visa can be issued only for maximum Six Months.

Only your Sponsor can issue you Exit Re-Entry visa cost of which is SR 200 for first 2 months and SR 100 for an additional month. However, you can issue exit re-entry visa for your family if they are your legal dependents. 

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The sponsor of your Family: Your employer is your Sponsor and you can be the Sponsor of your family. Your family consists of your parents, wife and your children. They need your permission for all the things for which you need the approval from your Sponsor.

Sponsor and Employer: It is illegal to work for someone who is not your Sponsor. So, in order to be legal in Saudi Arabia, your sponsor and your employer should be the same persons.

However, it is possible that with the permission of your Sponsor you start working for some other Sponsor and the second Sponsor takes your Kafala under his the name. It is called “transfer of sponsorship“.

In this way, your new employer will become your Sponsor.  But during the period, your sponsorship is under processing of transfer, you can work for the new employer. If you are working for someone who is not your Sponsor and you are caught by the passport office (Jawazat), penalties can be severe to you including a fine up to SAR 100,000/-, jail of 2 years followed by deportation.

Marriage in Saudi Arabia: There is no need to seek permission for marriage from Sponsor in Saudi Arabia. We have already published a detailed article in this regard. Recommended: Getting married in Saudi Arabia

In Case of Death: Even in the case of the death of someone, there are lots of documents required from Sponsor to register the person as dead in the records. This is the reason; it takes around 3 days on average to bury a dead body of expatriate if the family is willing to bury him in Saudi Arabia.

If they want to take the body back to the native country, the procedure may prolong to even 15 days. For detailed guidelines in this regard, please have a look at this article.

Legality of Sponsor holding the Passport: It has become a general practice in Saudi Arabia that Sponsor holds the passports of all the employees who are under his sponsorship in his custody.

He hands it over to them only when they are leaving Saudi Arabia with his permission. However, this practice is illegal. Have a look at this article for the reference of the law.