Unlike most countries, when you decide to quit your job in Saudi Arabia you can’t just pack up your things and leave on the next flight out. Why? Because all travel both into and out of the country is tightly regulated by the issuance of visas. That’s right, you don’t just need a visa to enter the country, you also need one to exit it. I’ve written in great depth about the initial entry visa process and I was pretty sure that it couldn’t get much harder than that to acquire a visa, however, I was surprised to find that it paled in comparison the headache I had to endure to get my final exit visa out of Saudi Arabia, otherwise known as clearance.
The exit visa procedure isn’t written about often and remains somewhat of mystery to those having to undertake it. In fact, I found that even the people who were meant to be administering my clearance papers were not entirely sure what they were meant to be doing with them (or at least they gave me that impression). I’d say one reason for the lack of discussion on clearance is that most people have no desire to relive the trauma they experienced, therefore, not many articles can be found about it online. Also, it seems that even within the same institution the clearance procedure can play out completely differently for two people, even if they resigned at the same time. For example, my colleague and myself, she’s married and I’m not, which constitutes a big difference here. Nevertheless, I wanted to document my experience for anyone curious about what can actually happen during clearance.
To begin with, there are two steps to leaving the country after you resign from your position:
- Your employer “clears” you of having any outstanding debts that you need to pay off before leaving.
- Applying for and receiving your exit visa.
The first, and lengthiest, step involved acquiring signatures from 20 people, most of whom I have never met before.
The contractual period of employment at KSU is based around the academic year, which starts and ends in September, right at the end of summer and currently at the end of the month of Ramadan. This poses a number of problems for someone trying to find and collect signatures because almost anyone in their right mind will take at least some of their vacation during the summer months and for those who haven’t, the working hours of Ramadan are reduced to, at the very most, five hours a day. It is a requirement that the employee notify the university of their resignation at least two months before the end of their current contract, which means sometime before July (the months are actually counted in the Hijri calendar but I went by Gregorian to be safe). Therefore, the entire period from giving notice through to ending your contract is not only oppressively hot but it is also highly likely that the people you need to see are not around when you come looking for them.
My first challenge was picking up the required clearance forms. It wasn’t until I questioned one of the ladies in the administration section for a third time about my final exit procedure that she casually mentioned that I needed to provide completed clearance forms to apply for my exit visa. The previous times I had asked her if there was any further paperwork for me to do she had confidently told me that everything was complete. This is not an unusual practice because it wasn’t her responsibility to provide me with the clearance paperwork, therefore, as far as she was concerned, she had no reason to discuss it with me. I tend to disagree. She explained to me that because I was officially employed by the College of Medicine I had to see someone there to pick up the forms.
It was mid-July when I finally got this information so of course this meant that the person I was directed to see was on vacation. A rather kind secretary in the office across the hall informed me of this and sent me to find “Mohammed” instead. Now, if you’ve ever set foot in a Muslim country you will realise just how complexing a task like that can be. After bouncing around a few offices with a confused and helpless look on my face (this was to become the norm) I ended up being handed two forms that needed to be completed. The first one had a College of Medicine header and a list of departments requiring signatures. The other was a very similar form except that it had a KKUH header, which I was told to use in my place of employment, KAUH, and was to become a source of much confusion to everyone in the coming weeks.