Riyadh, Nov 16, 2016 (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister said Wednesday that the kingdom is seeking reciprocal treatment on visas, after critics said the introduction of higher fees risked deterring investment.
Saudi Arabia last month introduced higher work visa fees for citizens of some countries, one of many moves adopted by the kingdom to cover a 51 percent slump in oil revenue last year following a sharp drop in global crude prices.
Speaking to AFP on the sidelines of the MISK Global Forum, Commerce and Investment Minister Majed al-Qasabi said Saudi Arabia was seeking “bilateral agreements with other countries” and that higher fees would not apply “as long as we’re treated equally.”
He did not respond directly to a question about the impact on investment, but added: “The government is globally inviting investors to come here.”
The higher tariffs, which took effect last month, do not apply to citizens of the European Union or the United States.
But for other countries, a six-month business or work-visit visa allowing multiple entries now costs 3,000 riyals ($800), compared with 400 riyals (just over $100) previously.
Diplomats told AFP last month that some investors were already reconsidering plans in Saudi Arabia following the fee increase, with one calling the move “incredibly short-sighted”.
As part of efforts to wean the economy off oil and promote job creation among Saudis, the kingdom aims to promote small- and medium-sized enterprises under the wide-ranging Vision 2030 reform plan announced in April.
But higher visa fees would be a particular disincentive for SMEs, the diplomats said.
Earlier Wednesday Qasabi addressed the MISK forum, which aims to link business leaders with young Saudis in a bid to inspire their involvement in economic diversification.