Saturday, February 13, 2010

You too, Bahrain?

Looks like some diseases are highly infectious. No, I am not talking of those which strike the human body. This disease is called 'labor-phobia'. Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia have long been used to being 'classified' based on their visa professions. Never mind that you might be the General Manager of a company, but if your iqama says that your profession is "labor", then all hell breaks loose. To begin with, you can't sponsor your family. Since you cant bring your family, you are forced to stay single. Which means that you would be treated differently the moment you step out of your home.

Let's say it's weekend and you want to go to the nearby mall. Nothing wrong in this, isn't it? You got it all wrong, my friend. You are single, without your family and hence would not be allowed into the mall. It doesn't matter that you are going to pay the same as a "family man" would, for whatever you planned to buy. No family, no admission. But why? Don't ask questions, this is the way of life. Okay, how about a walk along the corniche? No, you got it wrong again. You are supposed to restrict yourself only to the "singles" section. You aren't supposed to enter the "family" zone. Fine, now how about a visit to your dentist or the nearby dispensary? Nope! Same story again. You better not go and sit in the "family" section unless you want to be kicked out by the Security. Goodness Gracious! But this is life in Saudi Arabia and there is nothing which you and I can do about it, right?

Until now Bahrain was an outlet for those who wanted to take a break. All you needed was just an exit/re-entry visa. You just had to pay SR20 for crossing over the causeway, and you were given an entry on the Bahraini side. After all, it makes economic sense. Every visitor coming from the kingdom spends money in Bahrain and it helps the economy, right?

Well, looks like some wise guy couldn't take it anymore. All of a sudden since last week, people who were in Saudi "labor" visas couldn't enter Bahrain. And in typical Gulf style, it happened without any notice. Never mind if you had a valid Saudi exit/reentry visa. Now who on earth took this decision and why was it made? No answers. So, what exactly is a "labor" visa according to Bahraini immigration? Well, loosely translated, anything which is not an "engineer" or a "doctor" or any "supervisory" visa is a labor visa. Never mind your actual profession. If your iqama says so, that's it!

Okay, but how does it matter? Afterall, you do not get a discount in any hotel in Bahrain just because you are on a Saudi "labor" visa? You pay the same as what other non-labor Saudi visa holders do. And whatever is the logic behind this move? The grapvine is that there is a "suspicion" that people from Saudi come in the morning, work in Bahrain and return in the evening. What could be farther from truth and what else could be more illogical than this? But if you talk logic, you cannot survive in this region.

Sadly, it is going to affect the Bahraini economy more than anyone else. Why this retrograde step? Every expat has come here to make some money while at the same time contribute to the region's economy. Afterall, he or she has been hired to do a specific work isn't it? Hope good sense prevails. Let's hope that the entire region frees itself from the impractical and illogical branding of people based on their visa professions.