12 April 2012

Skills test for Saudi Arabia visa applicants

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The Saudi government has announced plans to examine applicants' professional skills before granting a Saudi Arabia visa in an effort to increase the competence of the six million strong foreign workforce in the country.

The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) says the tests will be implemented within 12 months on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, and all those applying for a working Saudi Arabia visa will be tested.

"Passing the test would be mandatory for those who come on a new labour visa into the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]," said Saad Al-Shayeb, director of the Department for Professional Skills.

Mr Al-Shayeb explained that the new scheme aims to improve the standard of workers' skills while tackling some rogue recruitment agents' exploitation of immigration rules.

"Foreigners working in all trades will come under the exercise as part of a drive to ensure equality and fairness. By this, the department also wants to put an end to the malpractices of some recruitment agencies."

Mr Al-Shayeb said Saudi Arabia's Cabinet had studied similar schemes in other countries and the task of implementing the new scheme would be given to the Ministry of Labor.

"First of all, we collected information about such experiments in various countries such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea and Jordan in addition to international organisations including the International Code Council and the American national Glass Association.

"The Cabinet has entrusted the Ministry of Labor to proceed with the scheme to verify the professional competence of foreigners in the local employment market to serve the nation and people in the best possible manner."

Mr Al-Shayeb said the new system would be mainly online based with an additional practical skills evaluation to be scheduled once the applicant arrives in the country. The system would rely on fingerprints and photographs for identification and tests would be provided in the applicant's own language.

Saudi Arabia has approximately 3,000 different trades with 270 professional standards to test and, with over 170 different nationalities applying for a Saudi Arabia visa, Mr Al-Shayeb admits the new system will be a challenge.

"We know very well it is a massive exercise to test the professional competence of over 6 million people belonging to more than 170 nationalities and possessing varying professional standards. Our task becomes much harder considering the fact that some of these foreigners do not have proficiency in reading or writing even in their mother tongue."

The new system is planned to be operational by the end of March 2013.

The Worldwide Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in Saudi Arabian immigration services.

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