Monday, January 23, 2012

Registration of Engineers in Saudi Arabia

My earlier post (click here) on changing the job profession evoked such a massive response that I decided to do a follow-up article on a related subject. This one relates to the registration of engineers working in Saudi Arabia.

For the past few years, we keep hearing that unless people holding "Engineer" as a profession in their iqamas register themselves with the Saudi Council of Engineers, their iqamas would not be renewed. In the past, this was never implemented strictly due to a variety of reasons. And those reasons are valid even today.

First is the practicality of this decision. Let's say you have an expatriate engineer with years of experience behind him. There is no question of suspecting his credentials because otherwise his employer would have sacked him immediately. So, is it really worth all the effort in making existing engineers undergo the registration process?

Next is the credibility of the Council itself. The intentions may be good (regulating engineers in the kingdom, blah blah) but how qualified and experienced are the people running this, to accredit other engineers? Professional regulatory authorities such as General Medical Council in the UK, Medical Council of India, Philippine Medical Association, etc., are all highly respected because they follow internationally accepted standards and comprise of individuals who are highly qualified and have several decades of experience behind them. Just take one look at the SCE user manual and you will know what I mean. The very first sentence reads  "Saudi Council of Engineers ......without the need of a visit to SCE fro submission of the applications". Give me a break, someone please conduct a crash course in spell check and English to these people before they start accrediting engineers!

You don't need to be a genius to conclude that this is nothing but a money-making exercise. Their accreditation fees is SR 1250 for engineers, SR1700 for associate engineers, SR 2300 for professional engineers and SR 2800 for consultant engineer. And I thought that all engineers were "professionals". So, if you are an unprofessional engineer you get to pay less! Some standard!

What is this whole exercise for? And to prove to whom? Does it mean that those who do not register themselves are not engineers? Then what about the attestation on the original certificate done by the Saudi embassy back home? That attestation is done only after the Education Ministry certifies that the particular certificate is original. So, does the attestation by the Saudi embassy have no value?

It is common knowledge that most expatriates work in Saudi Arabia with iqama professions not exactly matching their actual job titles. This is probably the biggest cause of heartburn, as people are unable to bring their families into the kingdom simply because their iqama has a non-supervisory title. I had written earlier about this in detail (click here). I have been getting several mails from people who are on Engineer visa, but who are in reality not engineers. Not their fault. Their sponsors simply brought them on whichever visa was available and since engineers were entitled to bring their families, they were simply issued those visas and and when they became available. Now what happens if their iqamas do not get renewed because SCE does not accredit these non-engineers?

For those expats who are on an engineer visa, but who really are not engineers, I would suggest the following. Anyway it is your sponsor's responsibility to do the iqama renewal, so at the first shot let him do all the running around in submitting your documents. If your iqama does get renewed, well and good. If not, I would suggest you to submit ALL your qualification certificates and documents to Saudi Council of Engineers. Let SCE do the job of reviewing your documents. If they reject your documents, you will get a message from them to collect the so-called "Non-registration" letter from their office. This letter must be submitted to the passport office to process the profession change in your iqama. The best part is that the rejection letter will be addressed to your sponsor and not to you, so once again the responsibility will shift to your sponsor. The only problem then, would be whether your sponsor has enough supervisory category visas so that you can continue to be with your families. The coming days are going to see quite some activity, so watch out this space for updates.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Changing profession - important developments

You like it or you don't, but you just can't ignore it. So goes the saying. I guess this is equally applicable to the Kingdom. So much has been happening here and sadly, not so much information about it easily available. It gives me great pleasure to announce that I have resumed writing in your favorite blog! Missed you all these days!

One of the most important issues bugging the minds of expatriates is the visa profession. I had mentioned in my earlier post (click here to view the same) the method for changing your profession in the iqama. For those visiting this blog recently, the logical question would be why would anyone want to do that? Simply put, it is because your actual job title is not the same as what is mentioned in your iqama and if your iqama title falls under the "prohibited" category, then you wouldn't be able to bring your family into the kingdom.

I have had mails from several expatriates mentioning at length their actual job title and how they have salaries comfortable enough to sponsor their families in the kingdom. Unfortunately, working in Saudi Arabia is a challenge if you don't adapt and acclamatize yourself. To top it all, most of the information doesn't come officially and it is only after some one actually goes through the process that he learns by experience. Ask me, I have been a desert camel for over 14 years and still continuing !

After the Saudi Government announced the Nitaqat program (which took effect from November 26, 2011), it is an understatement to say that turmoil has hit several expatriates. To make the long story short, companies are now classified under three different colors - red, yellow and green, depending on the level of Saudization. If a company falls under 'Green' category, it means that there are enough Saudis in that company and there is no restriction on hiring expatriates. If a company is 'Yellow', it still falls under danger zone, but is given time until February 23, 2012 to convert itself to 'Green'. Finally, if a company is in 'Red' category, no expat can be hired by that company nor would visas of existing expats be extended.

The important point question here is, what happens to the expats working in 'Red' and 'Yellow' category companies? The Labor Ministry has announced that expats in these companies can transfer their visas to 'Green' category companies without even requiring an NOC or release from their existing companies. How effective this has been, is another question. I have been flooded with requests from several expatriates on this one singular issue. Many have their iqamas expiring soon and are now in a fix. Their sponsors would not allow them to work elsewhere (despite whatever is written on paper) while the Government would not renew their visas.

There is a new twist to this drama. As soon as the Nitaqat program was announced, the Labor Ministry told that expatriates in the red and yellow category companies could get their iqama professions changed, subject to meeting some conditions. The rush to do so has been tremendous and now the Government has extended the deadline until February 22, 2012. After this date, profession change in the iqama would be allowed only for those employees working in the Green category. So, virtually it is a now-or-never for thousands of those expatriates working in red and yellow category companies.

Some restrictions apply even for specialized professions. For example, if you want to change your profession to "Engineer", you need to personally go to the Labor Ministry with your original (and attested) degree certificate. Similarly, if you are in Medical profession and want to change your profession to a "Doctor" or a "Nurse", you need to go personally and show your official license for personal verification.

What about other professions? Well, at the moment this is a big question. It again depends on what your qualifications are and to which profession you want to change to. I will keep you updated on all developments here. In the meantime, do keep visiting this blog as usual.