Following meetings last month between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Crown Prince Salman and Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, the Canadian government announced that it has made the visa application process easier for Saudis who wish to visit Canada. Canadian Ambassador Tom MacDonald confirmed that the purpose of the reforms was to simplify the process required for Saudis to visit Canada.

Some of the streamlining measures include:

  • A maximum of 10 working days processing time for visit visas
  • Three week processing time for student visas
  • Introduction of online applications
  • Opening of three Canadian visa application centers in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar

Additionally, Saudi visitors will be able to apply for multiple-entry visas, which allow visitors to make multiple trips to Canada within a timeframe of six months to five years.

At present, it is unclear whether reciprocal reforms on the Saudi side will be made for Canadian nationals. Obtaining a visa to enter Saudi Arabia is challenging and the application process should be started as early as possible. The country does make available visitor visas for brief business visits, to visit close relatives and for religious purposes, such as the Hajj pilgrimage. However, employment is expressly forbidden on business/visitor visas. Saudi Arabia’s iqama requirement is an important consideration for employers: visa applications must be sponsored by a Saudi citizen, company or organization; then, within 90 days of arrival, the foreign national must complete a medical exam at an approved center, surrender his or her passport to the sponsor and obtain a residency card (iqama).

Individuals or entities interested in engaging in business or employment in Saudi Arabia are advised to consult with a Greenberg Traurig immigration attorney.