Whereas in the west the word ‘sponsor’ is commonly used of individuals or businesses paying to have their names associated with an artistic or sporting event, in the Gulf it has a quite different meaning: a sponsor acts as a sort of guardian as well as guarantor and must undertake all administrative work (i.e. paperwork) on behalf of the foreigner, including applying for a work and residence visa, opening a bank account and signing a rental accommodation contract. A sponsor can be an individual, a company or an institution. In the case of employees, your employer usually also acts as your sponsor; visitors may be sponsored by a business partner or associate or by the hotel in which they’re staying. Those aiming to do business or set up a business in Saudi Arabia should research the local business environment, establish contacts and find an individual or company with a good reputation and experience in the relevant field to act as your sponsor, who will expect remuneration for his services.
The sponsorship system is an effective form of immigration control. As your sponsor is responsible for you and ‘takes the rap’ if you misbehave or contravene any regulations (which will also involve him in loss of ‘face’ in the community), he automatically checks that you’re reliable and trustworthy, as well as ensuring that you don’t inadvertently step out of line. For this reason, your sponsor is an important source of help and advice and a valuable ‘ally’. Note that there is talk of the sponsorship requirement being waived in some states, particularly for foreigners wanting to set up businesses in the free trade zones, but this hadn’t happened at the time of publication.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now.