I heard that foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, even westerners from the USA or European countries, are essentially imprisoned as indentured servants and that it is routine for the employer to seize and hold the worker's passport and that to leave Saudi Arabia requires an "exit visa", so essentially any foreigner is a prisoner. I could hardly believe this, but the "FAQ" for a hospital employer seems to confirm it, and also a long article by a foreign resident on Hub Pages says essentially the same thing in greater detail, that all foreign workers, even Europeans are on "contract" require an "exit visa" to leave.

What prevents a person from the UK or the US from just going to their embassy and asking for a new passport and help to leave the country? Do the embassies of the UK and USA collaborate with the Saudi government to imprison their own nationals against their will in the country?

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  • This seems to be a topic for Politics or Expatriates, but not really a good fit for TSE. – choster Mar 27 '18 at 2:26
  • @choster Well, it involves embassies and visas, common subjects for this forum. – Lemuel Gulliver Mar 27 '18 at 2:32
  • Indeed, but it's about working long term, which is specifically off topic here :/ I'm migrating it. – Mark Mayo Mar 27 '18 at 3:47
  • I have never heard this story with Westerners, but it's in the news for domestic servants (e.g., Filipinas) and unskilled laborers (from India, etc.). One issue can be getting into an embassy. First you have to make it past local police into the building. – Andrew Lazarus Mar 27 '18 at 18:59

I grew up in Saudi Arabia as an expat. My father still works there.

The exit visa is a special case when your employment is terminated and you are no longer entitled to return.

This is different than the normal visa which is a multiple entry permanent resident visa. Similar to what other countries issue and you don't need permission from your work to leave and return (other than the normal, you know, vacation request or whatever the HR policy is).

The exit visa is not "permission to exit", it basically says you can exit but not come back again on this visa.

All my years my father has been employed there on contract, never once has he needed an exit visa.

My brother who works there on contract also doesn't need an exit visa to leave the country.

You can always exit the country (which doesn't require any permits) and then not return.

Regarding holding of passports and indentured servants - a lot of this is hyped by the media.

You have to surrender your passport when you first arrive because the office has to process your paperwork.

You also have to surrender your passport when it comes time to renew your resident permit.

Other than that, the passport is your property and no one can hold your passport hostage. If they do, simply report it to the police to get your passport back.

Furthermore - western expats enjoy a very comfortable, very posh lifestyles in Saudi Arabia. They are (other than Saudi nationals) the highest paid expats in the country; and have very generous perks and incentives.

If you feel you are being held against your will or are otherwise mistreated; you can go to your embassy and ask for repatriation assistance.

It happens from time to time.

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  • 7
    Technically your passport is not your property - it is the property of the issuing state. (At least, that is certainly true of UK passports, and I expect it to be true of all others.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 27 '18 at 9:43

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