Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Can't settle down in Saudi Arabia?

I have been repeatedly emphasizing in various posts in the past about the importance of your contract (click here). I would now like to highlight certain important points for expatriates who want to return home within a short period after arrival.

The first three months of stay are the most crucial ones for any expatriate working in Saudi Arabia. This is the most testing period because, this is the time which gives an expat the opportunity to know the reality of the job and the new environment. The honeymoon would be over and suddenly he/she is exposed to the good, bad and ugly. Sadly, some of them are unable to adjust themselves to the new environment. It is easy to brush this aside as home sickness, but in a few cases, unfortunately the reasons for not being able to adjust is very genuine.

One of the prime reasons why an expat would like to leave within a short period, is the lack of belongingness. In other words, there is a huge gap between what was expected / promised and what was actually delivered. I know a specific case where the owner of a gas station did not allow his employees to go on vacation even after completing three years of service, because there was no replacement. Another sponsor wanted a fellow employee to be guarantor to release an employee, a gross violation of the law as well as human rights. A third case involved a sponsor not paying the first two months salary - to be kept as a deposit in case an employee did not return after vacation. I believe this amount was paid only after the employee returned.

In most cases, employees are just too scared to even complain because the passport is with the sponsor and without his consent, they are just jailbirds.

Now let's see what the law says if an employee would like to return. Article 40(1) of the Saudi Labor Law says that it is the responsibility of the employer to bear all recruiting fees such as Iqama, work permit, change of profession, exit/re-entry visa and the return tickets to the worker's home country "at the end of the relation between the two parties". Note, the labor law does not say "at the end of the contract". So, technically if a person resigns at any point of time, that is the end of the relationship, which also means that the employer has to bear the return ticket of the employee. Right? Not exactly.

Now let's move on to Article 40(2). It says that a worker shall incur the costs of returning to his home country "if he is unfit for work or if he wishes to return to his home country without a legitimate reason". What is "legitimate", is not defined. Why would anyone want to return to his own country without a legitimate reason? But this is not the point. Read this sentence carefully once more. The law says that the worker shall incur "the costs of returning to his home country". Which means that he pays for his one way ticket back home. He need not pay for any of the other costs incurred by his employer. Or at least that is what the law says.

But in reality is this the case? Any person wanting to leave against his sponsor's wishes is really asking for trouble. In almost all cases, it is common for the sponsor to make the employee pay for all the expenses incurred by him, including all recruiting costs.  Either you pay up or you don't leave the Kingdom of Humanity.

So, what is the practical way out of the situation? I cannot think of any other way, other than patiently waiting for your vacation time. There is simply no point in grumbling once you have arrived, because you are only going to hurt yourself emotionally.

I keep getting queries from people so desparate to come to the kingdom at any cost and do whatever kind of job they can get their hands on - just any kind of job. All they want is a job in Saudi Arabia, whatever it might be. My request to such people is: Please, don't get desparate. The oil boom has long ended and unemployment in the kingdom is a reality. So, if you really don't get a good offer, do not come. This would be good for you as well as for other expatriates already here. Working in Saudi Arabia is no longer a luxury. People do sweat it out for every Riyal they make, so have no assumptions that money is made easily here.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What to do if your iqama is lost

Anything associated with the Iqama is itself a painful process for expatriates working in Saudi Arabia. The woes are compounded when someone has the misfortune of losing the Iqama. Without an Iqama, you are a non-entity in the Kingdom. What exactly do you do, if you lose your Iqama?

I want to mention the official and unofficial routes here. First, the official one.

First and foremost, you must immediately inform your sponsor of the loss of your iqama. Also, immediately give a written complaint in Arabic to the Police. Do take your company's PRO along with you while you do this. The Police would not entertain if you do it yourself. This is extremely important and is the starting point of the rather long process in getting back your iqama. Next, an advertisement has to be placed in Arabic in a local newspaper. You will have to wait for a month from the date of this advertisement.

Your sponsor will have to write a letter in Arabic to the Passport Department. The letter must explain in detail where you lost the Iqama and the reason for the loss. Seems rather strange why they want to know the reason for the loss - how does it matter, anyway the Iqama is lost - but this is how the system works, so make sure that the letter has these two things. Along with this letter, you must also submit photocopies of your passport and the lost Iqama. Also, you must attach two passport size photographs (4cm x 6 cm).

You must attach all of the above with a specific form available in the Passport Department for this purpose. This form must be signed by you and must have the signature and official stamp of your sponsor.

There is a fine for loss of Iqama. Along with this fine, you must also pay the fees for the Iqama. The entire money has to be paid in an authorized bank. To my knowledge, only Riyad Bank accepts this. (Update as on 27th March, 2014: The Saudi Government has now waived the fine if theft of an Iqama is reported within 24 hours - this applies only to theft, not to loss due to negligence). Collect the receipt for this money and attach it along with the rest of the documents mentioned above.

Now you have done your part, but it is purely a matter of luck how soon you will receive your new Iqama. This is probably the most painful part of the whole process.

There is another route which expatriates normally adopt. Please note that I am not recommending this, but am just mentioning it here as a matter of information.

There is a place in Jeddah called Souk-Al-Somali (in other words, Somali souk) in Bab Makkah district. This is a rather notorious place. If your Iqama or any important document is stolen, there is a very high probability that it will end up in this area. All you have to do is walk around aimlessly in this place. You need not approach anyone. There are eyes watching you, and sooner or later, someone will approach you, asking whether you have lost something. The guy will verify details from you such as your sponsor's name and the expiry date of the Iqama. You will have to strike a deal with him. Do make a good bargain. Do not pay any money until you have actually physically seen your Iqama. In case your Iqama is with your family, the rate proportionately increases, so it all depends. Once the deal is settled, you have to give your mobile number to the guy. He will call you in a day or two and will ask you to come to a particular location. The most 'popular' one is the parking area in Al-Mahmal Center.

Once again, let me reiterate that I am not asking you to adopt the unofficial route. But when expatriates are in trouble and you have no one else to help, your troubles added by your lack of knowledge of Arabic, this information might probably help you. I wish you never land into this kind of trouble and it always better to be careful and take care of all of your important documents.