How Online Iqama Services Trickles Local Agents’ Business

The Passport Department’s online services which includes residence permit renewals among other services linked to expat workers, are putting muageb or local agents, out of business. These agents had an “essential” role for expatriates since they are the ones who comply with the processes needed for iqama renewal.

This online Iqama portal allows employers to shorten the requirements for renewing the iqama or the residence permit. In 2013, numerous expat workers were highly dependent on their sponsor for the renewal of their permit. The minimum payment to these agents for completing the documentation requirements was SR5,000.

Several Saudis who are in the agent business have even  established special offices where expats can submit their documents and where the problems complicating their iqama renewal can be discussed. Almost all of these agents know an official in the passport department, so the muageb could find solutions to address any complication that comes up.

But the Passport Department’s online service is a game changer. The electronic channel can be used by expats who need to complete the necessary procedures for their residence permit but they must be legally employed by a company in the private sector. Now, these companies started to employ someone to go to the Passport Department or the Labor Offices to follow up.

One former agent, Abdullah Al-Zaharni, relayed to Arab News that he already stopped working as an agent as “the iqama system has been changed.” He added that the ‘Absher’, the Passport Department’s online service, can now be filed by employers.

Expat workers had nothing but praises for the Passport Department’s efforts to put their services online as this helps them get their residency permits at lower prices. Many expats used to complain that agents are charging exorbitant rates for renewing their residence permits adding that these agents were taking advantage of expats who were in dire need of renewing their residency permits.

A private sector worker from Sudan, Ahmed Sadeeq, complained that the agent is always increasing the fees for renewing his permit and each renewal cost him SR500.

Another Syrian employee in a private company in Jeddah, Hussain Al-Asaad, stated that even if these agents were charging huge fees, they were necessary to facilitate the affairs of expatriates in Saudi Arabia. But this situation has changed and expats can process their own papers without the need to find an agent who has ties in the Passport Department. Many companies also have someone in the human resources department who is tasked to follow up procedures related to sponsorship transfer and iqama renewal.