My adventure in Saudi Arabia has yet to get its boots on the ground, but it is no less challenging just because I’m still in the U.S. As previously written about in Clash of the Bureaucracies, the process of obtaining an employment visa to the Kingdom is long and tortuous. While that post dealt primarily with the paperwork I could obtain for myself here, this post is a summary of the one elusive document that *had* to come from Saudi itself: the Visa Block/Letter of Invitation.
This is representative of the long time during which issues continued to mount with increasing contradiction and consternation, and often long polite roundabout emails and exchanges are paraphrased for brevity and/or levity.
May 11, 2014
Welcome email, including instructions on how to log into the employee portal to fill out information and begin early training.
The link to the employee portal doesn’t work…
A Google doc with (later to be contradicted) instructions is shared with me, and a timeline which turns out to mean absolutely nothing, encouraging me to hurry hurry hurry and get my documents in line. I am warned that once Ramadan begins, everything is very slow, so we should try to get my application in before this. This doc also includes the name and address of the visa agent in DC, and an introduction letter to include when I send him my paperwork.
Contract received, signed and returned electronically.
A dizzying conversation about contradictions between emailed instructions, the Google doc instructions, and the Saudi Embassy website, the upshot of which I am told
“The website information takes precedent over all. The rules and regulations tend to change drastically and unpredictably. So always defer to the website. Our document is only a guidance – the web information is what has to be followed.”
Another reminder to log into the employee portal which is still not working…
While inquiring about the details on the very unclear Saudi Embassy website, I am told that “The original letter from the company in Saudi Arabia sponsoring the applicant, certified both by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” will be a document sent to me from Riyadh. It will be in Arabic and show your name and passport number in English.
I report that all my paperwork is in, and I was only awaiting the Visa Block letter from the school to be able to send off my application.
I am told this is amazing, and I am the first teacher to have all my documents in order “Gold Star!”, and I should be receiving the letter soon.
Also, I get an email from the office in Riyadh asking to confirm my address because they have a package to send to me. Joy! I think, this must be the letter finally.
A check in email from the school, to which I respond again, I am only waiting on the letter from Riyadh.
I finally get my package away from FedEx to discover that it does not in fact contain the letter I was expecting, but rather the original contract and a photocopy document in Arabic. I email off for advice on what to do with these.
I am told to use the electronic version of the contract that I received in May.
Trying to sort out what this all-Arabic paper is:
Me: “This is definitely NOT an original, doesn’t seem to have my name on it, so I’m really doubtful this is the document I need.”
Them: “This could be the certificate that they are asking about. When you get ready to send your visa documents to DMS include this document. If they need it they will have it, otherwise they won’t. I’ve also sent a note to our office in Riyadh to determine the contents of the document. I’ll be in touch.”
Me: “I have all my other documents ready. I’m only waiting for the letter. So if that is it, I can send it now. But if it isn’t, I have to keep waiting.”
Them: “This is what the extra document is for. You surmised correctly.”
What? Quickly review the conversation… what did I surmise? Is it the letter or not?
Riyadh Office: “This is the company’s commercial registration certificate. It was required for the visa application so we sent copies together with the original contracts to the teachers.”
Me: “Sorry, but it still doesn’t meet the requirements listed on the Saudi embassy website, I sent you a copy of the requirement. Will they send the original document with my name on it?”
Them: “They will be sending the visa slip as soon as they can get it prepared. The certificate is not always required, but occasionally. Just send it with your visa application and all will be well.”
I had planned a cross country visit to see my family before departing. Given my earlier expectations of timeline that I would have been able to send my paperwork in June, or at least before Ramadan, or maybe the beginning of July? I had planned the trip for the end of July. So I send off an email to let the school know that if they plan on sending the letter while I’m out of town, please let me know so I can arrange for someone to receive the package.
The response: “Nice to hear from you! Hope you’re doing well and that this great adventure is appearing more and more exciting. Nothing is likely to happen between now and August 3, as the Riyadh office (and embassies) are closed for the Eid holiday.”
Another check in from the school to ask how I’m progressing on my visa application.
No really, still have all my materials, only waiting on your letter…
Another email from me to them, pleading that with only 2 weeks left until my supposed start date, there is still no sign of the letter. I cannot tell my boss when my last day is, I cannot tell my roommate when I am moving out, and my medical paperwork (that they urged me to get as soon as possible back in May) expires on August 26th!
The response: “After reading your email, I’m still trying to determine exactly what
you need. What letter of invitation?”
I once again refer them to the Saudi Embassy website.
Oh, that letter…. Hopefully you’ll get that this week.
Once again, they check on where I am in gathering my other materials. Once again I say, yes, have them all, have done so for over a month now, and my medical papers expire soon…
Them: Good news (addressing me by the wrong name), you should receive the letter tomorrow! We also found out that you must use this visa agent (name and address) — who is the same one from the Google doc back in May. And we’re emailing you the letter.
Me: Actually, my name is …, and (for the Nth time) the Saudi Embassy website says “original letter”, an email doesn’t seem like that…
Them: “I think we are not sending applicants visa blocks after all because
the Saudi Consulates prefer to work only with Visa Agents.”
At this point, I believe the brain explosion could be heard several blocks away.
Hope this email finds you will [sic].
Please confirm the name and contact information for the visa agent in your country that you would like to pass your visa application through. We have already applied for the work visas and we are expecting them sometime next week.
If you don’t have a visa agent yet, then we will be using https://www.vfstasheel.com/ where you will need to book an online appointment with them to pass your application.
Please make sure that the visa agent that you will use is certified by the Saudi Embassy in your country. Otherwise, we can just go with https://www.vfstasheel.com/.
We will also be sending you Wakala letters (invitation letters from sponsor), certified by the Saudi Chamber of commerce via email to support your application.
Ok. Nevermind the fact that I’ve twice been told what visa agent to use, if you visit this website, you’ll see that it does not have an option for Saudi Arabia listed in its services. And also, email, still not original.
It is explained to me, in further direct contradiction to several previous exchanges
-Yes, use the visa agent we told you in the beginning
-The original contract (that I was told not to send) is where the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs certifications are, so send that.
-The emailed version of the visa letter is certified, but since we’re sending original certifications on the contract, a color printout of the visa block letter is ok.
I finally got the email of the letter of invitation!
So, here I am, all the paperwork finally. Inshallah, unless they respond in the next few hours with some new contradiction, I will be sending the visa application to the visa agent tomorrow.
Who knows, I may actually make it the Kingdom this month. Whether I’m still sane when I get there is another matter entirely.