Apart from any contractual arrangement, this also places a moral obligation on the employee to the employer, or it should do. In earlier years, workers were brought to the region on a fixed period contract, normally two years, after which the contract could be renewed by mutual consent. Arab employers learned by experience, however, that this didn’t always work to their advantage, because the employee could then negotiate with a competitor for a new contract. A new employer then had the benefit of a seasoned expatriate, adjusted to the way of life and the business environment, with little to pay in the way of relocation and recruitment expenses. In some instances, there was one year’s hard work followed by a year’s wind-down as the contract approached completion.
Today, contracts tend to be open-ended and include clauses to protect the employer, such as a six-month period before the granting of a new work visa for a particular worker. This discontinuity means that, technically, the worker must leave the country for six months before reapplying for a visa. There are, however, ways around this. (There usually are in the region, if you know the right people.) A worker can transfer to a new employer if his original sponsor or employer provides him with a ‘letter of no objection’ or a ‘no objection certificate’ (NOC). If the sponsor is your employer (which is usually the case), he may be reluctant to allow you to go and work for another company, although he may be willing to issue and NOC in order to avoid the expense of returning you to your country of origin.
Nevertheless, don’t assume that the change will be quick and simple; there will inevitably be numerous questions and checks. In order to have the full support of your new employer, it’s usually best to leave the country for a period and return under a new agreement. Even then, if you return and take up employment with a firm that’s in competition with your previous employer, you might find that matters become awkward; as a general rule, sponsors and employers are loath to fall out with each other, so the expatriate is likely be the loser.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now.