Sunday, January 31, 2010

Police clearance for Indian nationals

It was only a matter of time before this new rule was implemented in the kingdom. Indian nationals who are planning to come to work in Saudi Arabia would now need to go through another process. They would need to have a police clearance from the local passport office.

I remember that this rule was already in place about a decade ago, when I first entered the kingdom. However, it was never implemented strictly and over a period of time, the Saudi embassy in India also stopped insisting on it. But now, it has become official.

What does this mean for the potential Indian expatriate planning to work in Saudi Arabia? Indian passports are valid for ten years from the date of issue, before they need renewing. Potential Indian expats planning to come to the kingdom for employment first need to ensure that the address mentioned in their passports are updated. So, if you have moved your residence after issue of your passport, you better get the new address updated in the passport. I would advise you to also make a personal visit to your local police station to make sure that the cops visit you when you are present at home. Visiting your local police station strengthens your case for a quicker home visit by the policemen.

An update to the Arab News report is that the new rule is being implemented from 15th February, 2010 and not from 25th January, as mentioned.

What is particularly comforting is the fact that Saudi sponsors too need to have their visa requests certified by the local Chamber of Commerce and countersigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In case any sponsor has defaulted or has pending cases in the labor court, he would be unable to get this certificate from the Chamber of Commerce. It is hoped that both criminal employees as well as criminal sponsors can be effectively screened this way. I just wish that this rule is implemented in letter and spirit and not watered down as time passes.

On another note, there is still no update on the proposed family visa process based on income. Remember the famous NOC-not-required-rule which came into force in 2006, but till date is partially implemented and that too only for a few countries? Patience is a virtue for expatriates working in Saudi Arabia and I just hope that the family visa proposal also does not get delayed further.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Of minimum wages for expats

Working in Saudi Arabia is a challenge. More so when you realize that you are offered a pay which is far less than what was promised / anticipated. Whenever a fleeting thought comes to my mind why some people with far less qualifications and experience than me land themselves in jobs paying much higher than mine, I just look around at some of my poor low-paid fellow expatriates and thank Almighty for what I am.
My heart goes out to these lowly-paid people who slog it out. Can you believe that some of these guys get paid just SR450 per month? I was talking to a Nepali janitor the other day who say he works 365 days a year without a break by doing odd jobs. Ditto with the Bangladeshi car cleaner who is forced to take up sundry jobs after his regular work.
My attention was drawn to the labor ministry's proposal to raise the minimum wage for Saudis in private sector. Take a look at this article. Fair enough and I feel happy for them. But please, extend this to everyone, not just Saudis. If you pay someone SR450 a month, what would he eat? Forget about saving and sending something for his family back home, his own sustenance would become a question mark. Sending a person on vacation once in 3 years may make good economic sense for a few selfish sponsors, but wouldn't it encourage petty crimes by some of these guys out of desparation?
What is it that makes these people work for a pittance? I guess it is a combination of illiteracy and desparation back home that they jump into whatever is offered. It is no wonder that they are taken for a ride. Unscrupulous agents in their own countries promise them the moon and when these people land in the kingdom, they are in for a rude shock. To add to their misery, some of the sponsors retain their passports and do not release them, which makes them virtual slaves.
I was talking to a Pakistani driver the other day. He said that it was 5 years since he went home. His sponsor wouldn't give him his passport and wouldn't allow him to work with someone else either. When asked what he was planning to do, he told me without the slightest emotion in his face that he had "escaped" from his original sponsor and that he had no iqama and that after earning enough money from odd jobs, he would go straight to the infamous bridge in Jeddah and wait for the police to arrest and deport him back home.
Sad story, but this is the reality. What is the remedy? To begin with, there must be minimum wages fixed for each profession and the labor ministry must strictly monitor whether the workers are indeed being paid what was promised. As in the UAE, bank accounts must be made compulsory for all expatriates and all payments must be done on time. Vacation of atleast once a year must be made mandatory and binding. Let's hope that the year 2010 ushers in good times for all our fellow expat brothers and sisters.