It is common knowledge that Saudi Arabia has one of the biggest expatriate workforces residing and working in their country. The numbers of expatriates working in the Kingdom are so irregularly high from other countries around the world that specific and special arrangements had to be made by the Saudi Authorities to facilitate the expat workforce which makes up almost one-third of the total population. To fight fraud and to improve the efficiency of the systems in place in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Government has just made an announcement that they will be providing special identity card to every expatriate working and residing in the Kingdom. These new cards will be machine readable and are expected to be handed out from October 15 of the current year which will also be the first day of the Islamic year.[irp]
The old cards would be replaced if they are renewed if a transfer of sponsorship takes place, or one is issued for the first time, said the report in a local daily. They would have magnetic strips to prevent forgery, have no expiry date on them, and have ‘resident identity’ replacing the word ‘iqama.’ The same fees apply annually. Along with this new effort, four additional services are also set to be introduced by the Department of Passports known as Jawazat. These new services include the changing of the expatriate residence permit through the launch of a new card which will be just called “resident identity card” and will have added new features. It has been made compulsory for all those who use the Jawazat service to have a mailbox or Wasel. This is so that the Jawazat department can provide their services directly to each home. The Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Naïf, himself launched the new resident or Muqeem card which is all set to replace the card currently being used by the expatriates. The launch was held in the city of Riyadh on Thursday and it was announced that the department will not use the name Iqama anymore.
The new residence card can last up to 5 years or even more depend on how the card owner looks after it. Every expatriate will be issued this new identity document and the one being used currently will become null and void. While talking to the media, Colonel Khalid Al Saykhan, the director of information technology stated that even though newer cards were being issued, the laws regarding the card have not changed at all. He states that this new move has only been done to improve the efficiency of the department. Colonel Saykhan added that the period of a residency permit for the expatriates will also remain unchanged. He stated that the period of the stay must be recorded through the Abshir system to register an identity card.
The new cards have not been given an expiry date and will be scanned or read through special machines which are being installed at several checkpoints across the Kingdom, which include banks, government offices etc. The new card will, however, have the photograph, name, identity number, religion, employers name, nationality, occupation etc. hence it will not be a good idea to lose it. The period of stay for the expatriate can be checked online. The new resident identity card will have to be renewed electronically every year. The Colonel stated that there are only two changes to the identity card in comparison to the one in circulation and being used right now. Firstly, he said that the general appearance of the current card has been changed in the newer version, and the second one is that the new card will not have an expiry date unlike the one being currently used.
Colonel Saykhan stated that this new residency card has been launched to provide a better, more convenient service to the expatriate community, without the hassle of having to visit the offices and waiting for their turn. With the new card, everything will be done online hence reducing the hassle for the expatriate holders of these cards. Additionally, the colonel stated that the new cards have been introduced to reduce the materials being used annually to print new cards, he said that this new step is the first of many towards the dream of having a completely E-Government. The colonel stated that after these cards have been issued from October 14th, 2015 which is also the first day of the Islamic Year, The Passports Department will stop all the establishments and companies from visiting the Passport department’s offices. This will be done because all the services provided at the passport department offices will then be available online. Additionally, all the new identity cards will be mailed to the workers directly to the locations of their establishments and companies through the mail.
The Passports Department has also made a statement saying that any expatriate who exits the Kingdom on an exit – reentry visa and does not return in time will not be allowed inside the Kingdom for the next three years. The department said that the relevant authorities have already started to implement these new measures and rules. The passport department aims to create a tighter link up with the Ministry of Labor than before. Important details like the date of expiry of the Iqama, the status of the expatriate and any other information can be found out by inquiring through the SMS service which is now being offered. The verification of the Iqama and its validity can also be found out by calling the department, through the website of the Ministry of Interior, Through the Yaqeen system created for the banks and the car rental service providers, SMS via mobile phones and through the Raqeed system.[irp]
The Crown Prince Mohammed has also launched an initiative which aims towards monitoring the overall operations being conducted in the department and to ensure the optimal performance by all the officials of the department. The deputy premier had been briefed on the details of this strategy by some senior officials. Amongst those who attended the launch was the director general of the department, Major General Abdul Aziz Al-Yahya, the Director Administrative Development Colonel Salih Al Merhie and the Director of Media Communication Colonel Mohammed Al Saad.