Friday, July 24, 2009

New restrictions on Haj pilgrimage


For Muslims around the world, the Haj pilgrimage is one of the primary duties and one which is very close to their heart. This pilgrimage has to be done by Muslims at least once in a life time by those who can afford it. People plan for months, if not years together, to make this trip.
Handling such a large number of pilgrims pouring in from all parts of the globe is a logistical nightmare for the authorities. Despite extensive arrangements, major accidents have occured in the past, just because of the sheer volume of people converging at one place. This was the reason why a rule is already in place that Muslims currently residing in Saudi Arabia cannot perform Haj if they have already done it within the past 5 years.

On 22nd July, 2009, Health ministers from Arab countries met in Cairo, Egypt, and unanimously agreed to impose certain restrictions with immediate effect. The new restrictions are that pilgrims above 65 years would not be allowed to perform Haj. Also, children below 12 years would not be allowed, as also those with chronic diseases. Also excluded are those with symptoms of the now infamous H1N1 virus or swine flu as it is commonly known. Though the resolution is to be ratified by the respective Governments, it is just a matter of formality before it becomes a rule, because the decision of the Arab ministers has been unanimous.
Statistically, about one third of the pilgrims performing Haj are above 65 years. For those who have been saving for this trip for quite a long time, this news has come as a blow. But more cause of worry is for those who have already paid money and are waiting for the visas to be stamped in their passports.
It is still not clear whether this new rule would be a permanent one or whether this is just for the time being, until the swine flu epidemic across the world comes under control. Meanwhile, this blog would continue to keep track of the latest developments and would keep you posted.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Family visit visa validity


Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia must always be alert to the various dates and deadlines. This particularly applies to those of you who are sponsoring your families on visit visa. I had described the detailed procedure for sponsoring your family on a visit visa in one of my earlier posts (click here). I would now like to describe on the next steps you should take, once your family arrives here.
Much as we all would like to keep our visiting family members with us for as long as possible, the hard reality is that there IS a deadline up to which they can legally stay in the kingdom. The duration of their stay can vary from one month up to 3 months depending on the validity of their visit visa, unless the visa is renewed. I had described earlier the procedure of renewing the family visit visa (click here). The most important thing you should remember is the date up to which your family is allowed to stay here.
Please note that there is a fine of SR10000 (yes, you read it right, it is ten thousand riyals!) if your family overstays in the kingdom beyond the deadline. Not only that, when your iqama expires, it will not be renewed and you would be deported out of the kingdom. What this also means is that you can never again enter Saudi Arabia, once you have the deportation seal stamped in your passport. Most expatriates working in Saudi Arabia have faced the problem with dates, more so because the officially recognized dates are from Hijri calendar and not Gregorian calendar (click here for date conversion from one to the other). I have now provided here another easy way to check the validity of your visa.
Click on this link, enter your passport number and visa number and you will straightaway know the validity of the visa. Once you know this important information, all it requires is to just renew your family's visit visa before the expiry date. This would avoid a great deal of trouble for expatriates who have sponsored their families.
Hope this post has been useful to you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Great day

Today is a great day for your favourite blog. The visitor count has crossed the 100000 mark! All this has happened in just about 2 years time. From the bottom of my heart, a big Thank You to all of you.
As I look back in all these 12 years of my working in Saudi Arabia, the one thing which hasn't changed is the lack of information for expatriates. This, coupled with the lack of understanding of how the system works, makes life even more difficult. As the saying goes, the only thing certain in Saudi Arabia is uncertainty.
My Inbox has never been empty ever since I started this blog. At one point of time, I even discontinued giving personal replies to the queries as it became overwhelming and difficult to handle. That was when my friend and reputed software / VA expert, Mrs. Deepa Govind, suggested to start a paid service for those requiring a personalized consultancy. Thanks to her valuable inputs, I have now added a form in this blog which can be accessed using the link given on the right hand side of this blog.
More important and very dear to my heart, much more than what money can give, is the good feeling that I get when people write to me about families getting united, people returning back to the kingdom for work and expats finding solutions to problems they thought were insurmountable. If my writing has been of help to any of my dear fellow expats, then the purpose of writing this blog has been served. A very big thank you to all of you once again, dear friends!