Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NOC not required for Indians

It's now official. There's finally some good news for Indian expatriates working in Saudi Arabia who are planning to switch jobs. I had mentioned earlier the difficulties faced by expatriates planning to change jobs, due to the draconian No Objection Certificate requirement. This has now been done away with, but only for Indian expatriates, at the moment. For other nationalities, it is best to consult the Saudi Embassies in your own countries.
More than 2 years after it was made a law, Saudi embassies around the world are slowly starting to implement the same. The consulate in Mumbai, India, has now declared that if any Indian national, currently working in Saudi Arabia , wishes to change his job within the kingdom, he can re-enter the kingdom without the requirement of a No Objection Certificate from his current employer, provided he has left the kingdom on an Exit visa. In other words, if he has gone on Exit/Re-entry, it is still necessary to obtain an NOC from the current employer.
A major hurdle has thus been removed for Indian expatriates planning to switch jobs. Let us hope that it would be equally applied to all other countries too. The winds of change, it appears, is slowly blowing in favour of expatriates.
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Update on the above post (November, 2008):
The winds of change, it appears, has stopped! Within 6 months after relaxing the NOC rule, the Saudi Consulate in Mumbai has once again reintroduced the requirement of a No Objection Certificate. What is really annoying is that it was done without the slightest notice, leaving hundreds of expatriates high and dry. Many people had gone back to India in the hope of coming back to a better job and now find that their hopes have dashed. Let us hope that this rule is relaxed at the earliest!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vacation entitlements

I have been repeatedly mentioning in this blog about the importance of reading and understanding your contract before planning to work in Saudi Arabia. Your contract IS the final document which would stand by you in case of a dispute between you and your employer.

I would now like to mention something about your entitlements for annual vacation. There are a few contracting companies in Saudi Arabia, which take the expatriates' ignorance of law as granted. Not all of them are this way, but as in any place, there are bad apples in every basket.

Specifically talking about your vacation entitlements, you must know that you are entitled for an annual vacation of minimum of 21 days each year for the first five years. Some of the contracting companies allow the employees to go on vacation only once in 2 years. But this does not relieve them of their obligation towards the law. If you are planning to sign such a contract, ensure that your entitlement is a minimum of 21 days each year.

If you continue to stay in this company for more than 5 years, your entitlement becomes 30 days for each year, from the 6th year onwards. An interesting thing to note here is that, even if your employer has forced you to sign a contract of 21 days vacation after the first 5 years, the law clearly states that your entitlement is 30 days, so this will supersede what you have signed in your contract. In other words, when you go on final exit from the kingdom, your employer is supposed to pay you for the remaining 9 days per year for each year of service after the first 5 years.

Working in Saudi Arabia is a challenge as well as a rewarding experience, but you must know your rights and obligations clearly before signing any contract.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dealing with cops - Some tips

One of the most common problems of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia is dealing with the policemen, language being the biggest hurdle. If your vehicle ever meets with an accident, the first thing you should do is to stop the vehicle right there and get out of the car. Do not move the vehicle till a policeman arrives on the spot. Do not be bothered about the traffic behind you, i.e., even if the vehicle is bang in the middle of the road, you must just put on the hazard lights and stop the car right there. This is very important because if you try to move the vehicle to the side of the road, it would amount to tampering with evidence.

If you are taken to the police station, never sign any document unless the Government Relations Officer of your company arrives. This is important because all verbal and written communication would be in Arabic. If it is not practically possible, and the cop on duty forces you to sign some document, sign it but make sure that you write above your signature that you do not understand what is written above. Believe me, this would save you a lot of trouble later, as mentioned earlier.

With the current security situation, there are checkpoints in almost all major towns across the kingdom. As mentioned earlier in my blog, you must always make sure to carry your iqama, istemara, car insurance and your company ID with you all the time. At every checkpoint, make sure that you do the following. A word of caution - these are just tips, not official rules, and are based completely on my own experiences!
  • Completely roll down your car window; never mind if you lose the coolness and comfort of the ac. One of my friends did not roll down his windows and he was simply asked to park his car by the side of the road and made to wait for more than 30 minutes. Remember, the cop is standing in the hot sun and you must do nothing, absolutely nothing, which would irritate him
  • Switch off the music from your radio/CD player
  • Take out the ID in your hands and show it out of the open window. Some people have their IDs hung around their neck. Never make the mistake of showing the cop your ID in this fashion. Take it out of your neck and display it clearly by sticking your hand out of the window.
  • Never chew gum in front of the cop. Some of them consider it as an insult
  • If you are wearing sun goggles, remove them when you cross the checkpost
  • Never ever try to switch lanes. Murphy's law always works here and the other lane would always be faster than yours. But if you try to switch lanes in a checkpost, you had it!
  • Never talk to other passengers or in your mobile phone as you pass a checkpost
  • If a cop speaks something to you in Arabic, just give a friendly smile, apologize and say that you do not know Arabic. In nine out of ten cases, this works and he would simply let you go without bothering you much.
  • Remember that these cops are stressed out standing in the open and your actions must never ever irritate them at any point of time.

These are practical tips for expatriates planning to work in Saudi Arabia, which you wouldn't find in any official dossier. Hope they are of some help to you.