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Saudi Arabia: New Skills Verification Program for foreign workers

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By Bilal Abujaleel | April 8, 2021

Employers should register their foreign workers as required for the skills test, aimed at ensuring the competence of skilled workers.

Employer Action Code: Act

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has announced the launch of a new Skills Verification Program (SVP) aimed at stopping the flow of unqualified workers by verifying that foreign employees’ skills match the job requirements of the profession they are or will be practicing in Saudi Arabia.

Key details

The SVP was launched on March 8, 2021, and applies to around 1,000 specific professions of skilled workers in 23 occupations as defined by the Saudi Standard Classification of Occupations. It is part of the Professional Accreditation system, aiming at regulating and improving the labor market by standardizing professional qualifications, within the overarching framework of the Vision 2030 program. Skills verification exams will include both practical and theoretical aspects to ensure employees’ skills and expertise meet the relevant Saudi occupation classification standards. The exams will be conducted in test centers in Saudi Arabia and foreign locations, and will be subject to a nominal fee. How demanding or difficult the exams will be is yet unknown.

While the SVP will ultimately apply both to foreign employees already working in Saudi Arabia and to workers seeking employment in Saudi Arabia but still residing in their home country, initial testing will be focused on foreign workers currently in the country and engaged in the specified professions. The second phase of the program will be linked to work visa applications for foreigners seeking to come to Saudi Arabia for work. The start of the second phase will depend on the time required to arrange the foreign testing centers.

Mandatory skills verification for workers in Saudi Arabia will commence on June 1, 2021, for companies with 3,000 employees or more, and then gradually be expanded to all employers in the private sector by December 1, 2021; however, employers may voluntarily register their staff for examinations through the program’s Qiwa portal.

Employer implications

Employers should review whether any of their current foreign employees fall under the professions covered by the SVP, and register them as required for the skills test. Foreign workers constitute a large majority of the total private sector labor force, though the composition of a given employer’s workforce will determine the extent to which they are affected by the SVP. The obligation to pass the skills examination in order to qualify for a work visa will add administrative and financial hurdles for employers recruiting foreign workers within the covered professions.

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Bilal Abujaleel

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