Saudi Arabia has made a heavy increase in visa fees as part of its effort to diversify its non-oil economy in a move that is likely to affect millions of foreigners including Nepali migrant workers.
Saudi Arabia is the largest work destination for Nepalis in terms of the number of workers it hired last year.
The oil-rich kingdom hired 138,529 Nepalis in the fiscal year 2015-16.
Gulf-based newspapers reported that the new visa regime came as an effort to boost state revenues in an era of low oil prices. Saudi Arabia’s total budget deficit amounted to almost $100 billion in 2015, a year marked by plummeting oil prices.
The new visa regime, which came into effect on Sunday, requires foreigners entering the kingdom to pay up to
8,000 Riyal, which is equivalent to Rs230,000.
According to the revised visa regime, foreigners entering the kingdom in multiple entry visas will have to pay SR3,000 for a six-month period, SR5,000 for a year and SR8,000 for two-year entry. Earlier, foreigners had to pay SR500 for two-year multiple visa.
It, however, remains unclear whether there will be a different rule for foreigners working in the kingdom. Migrant workers are given residency visa (also known as iqama).
Recruiting agencies in Nepal say the new visa regime might not affect migrant workers as much as it does tourists and pilgrims. Millions of Muslims from across the globe travel to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
“It’s unclear whether the same visa regime will apply to migrant workers. We are hoping for a different policy on residency visa as the revised rules are not justifiable for migrants,” said Bal Bahadur Tamang, former chairman of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies. The Saudi residency visa earlier cost SR3,000.
Agencies sending workers to Saudi Arabia said the employer should bear any additional visa cost. A majority of Nepali workers earn SR1,000 per month on an average in the Gulf country.
What is known for sure is that migrants coming home on leave will have to pay a maximum of SR200 for a single trip of two months and an addition SR100 each month until the expiry of the residency permit. It will also affect migrants willing to take their dependants or family members on visit visa due to the hefty rise in fees.
Officials at the Department of Foreign Employment said they came to know about the changes through media reports.
Source: The Kathmandu Post