Wednesday, 19 September 2007
By Adel Al-Malki
THE Council of Ministers on Monday met a long-standing demand of the private sector by making it far easier for foreign businessmen to visit Saudi Arabia.
Meeting in its weekly session chaired by King Abdullah at Al-Salama Palace in Jeddah, the Council approved 12-month multiple-entry visas for foreign businessmen. The visa issuance process has also been simplified under a fast-track procedure that avoids much of the cumbersome and delay-prone paperwork of the past.
From now on, Saudi embassies abroad will issue such visit visas to foreign businessmen and those in their category without the need for an invitation from a Saudi company or letter of introduction from a Saudi Chamber of Commerce, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Foreigners who qualify for business visas include businessmen, investors, representatives of foreign companies, managers, sales managers, sales representatives, accountants, production managers, administrative managers and consultants, according to Saudi embassy websites.
Monday's decision was made after the Council reviewed a proposal to grant non-Saudi businessmen visit visas at Saudi airports, said Iyad Amin Madani, Minister of Information and Culture, in a press briefing after the session.
For the business community, the new arrangement greatly eases up interaction with foreign businesses wanting to engage the Saudi market.
Abdul Rahman Al-Jeraisy, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry lauded the decision as a big step forward.
Simplification of the business-visa process removes an obstacle that Saudi businessmen have been complaining about for years, he said.
The step will accelerate the flow of investments into the country and pave the way for more partnerships between foreign and Saudi investors, he said.
Al-Jeraisy said the Cabinet's response to the private sector's demand would give the national economy a strong thrust.
Business visas do not grant to the applicant the right to work or to reside in Saudi Arabia.
Nonetheless, business sources in Jeddah told The Saudi Gazette, the new arrangement will make it easier for Saudi companies to tap into highly skilled foreign manpower who prefer to be based in neighboring countries - Dubai in the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, for example.
"They can now easily fly in and out as consultants," one source said.