Monday, February 25, 2013

Finally, some relief !

The havoc caused by implementation of the Nitaqat program on expats has already been well documented (click here). As expected, thousands of expatriates falling under 'Red' category were left stranded when they could not find jobs in yellow and green categories. To add insult to injury, the decision by the Saudi Government to impose a fine of SR2400 per year per expatriate on those companies employing less than 50% of Saudi employees, put a severe strain on expats.

What happened was that many sponsors simply abandoned their expat employees and refused to renew their iqamas. "Saudization is nice to talk about, as long as it doesn't hit under my belt", seemed to be the policy of these greedy sponsors. So, overnight we now have a situation where thousands of expats whose iqamas were not renewed were illegal residents, who were liable to be arrested at any time for overstaying without legal documents. 

After a series of flash strikes, the Saudi labor ministry finally announced an "amnesty" scheme yesterday. All expatriates without valid papers can now leave the kingdom on an exit only visa, without any fines. What a great relief this has come, for these unfortunate people whose only "crime" was that their iqamas were not renewed by their sponsors! 

Okay, now to the brasstacks. Most embassies are gearing up for a mad rush of thousands of such people who want to get out. In fact, the Indian embassy is now making arrangements to put extra staff to handle this rush. All expats wanting to go out of the kingdom on an exit only visa without facing any fines, can apply for emergency certificates through their respective embassies. Of course, there are certain exceptions. For example, if someone is absconding after committing serious crimes like murder, etc., he would not be eligible. But for the vast majority of others, this has really come as a major relief.

For the convenience of Indian expats, I am giving here the link (click here) from where they can download the emergency certificate forms. Fill up this form and submit it to your embassy with all required documents. Expats from other countries can likewise contact their respective embassies for obtaining emergency certificates. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Death compensation procedure in Saudi Arabia

I had written earlier about the formalities to be followed in case of death of an expatriate in Saudi Arabia (click here). 

Very frequently, I have been getting requests by dependents of such expatriates who passed away. The unfortunate part is when the kith and kin of such expats are in the home countries and have absolutely no clue of how to go about getting the dues from the sponsors. It is hard on the dependents to lose their bread winner, but it is even more disastrous when some sponsors do not bother to settle the dues of their deceased employees leaving the next of the kin in the lurch. I was recently moved by one such request pleading for help on the way forward, because there was just no help coming from the sponsor, so I decided to do a separate post on this for the benefit of such people.

What happens to the dues of deceased expat workers? Does it get locked up forever? Is there no way by which the next of the kin could get some relief? What if there is no response from the sponsor? The only way out is legal action, but what could the kith and kin living thousands of kilometers away do to get their rightful dues? 

To answer these, one must understand that there are certain procedures to be followed. To begin with, the legal heirs of the dead expat must contact their embassy in Riyadh. The first step is to prove that they are the legal heirs and must arrange for what is known as a "Legal Heir Certificate" (LHC). This certificate must contain the full names of each one of the dead person's children / legal heirs, including minor children and the age and relationship of each one of the legal heirs with the deceased. In case the deceased had minor children, the name, age and relationship of the guardian must also be mentioned in this certificate. Finally, this certificate has to be issued by a statutory authority in the home country, such as a Civil Judge / District Magistrate, etc.

The next step is to get hold of someone in the kingdom who is ready to attend the court proceedings on behalf of the legal heirs. This is not only impractical, but also a pain for anyone. So, I would suggest that the best way out is to authorize the Embassy of the deceased person to handle the case. To do this, the legal heirs must arrange for a Power of Attorney (POA). The POA is a legal document which you must contain the names and signatures of each one of the legal heirs. In case of minor children, it is mandatory for the guardian of the minor kids to sign this document. For those people who cannot sign, the left thumb impression for men and right thumb impression for women are considered legally adequate. The POA must very clearly state that the legal heirs are authorizing the Ambassador of their country's embassy in Riyadh with powers to nominate any of the officers of the embassy to represent them in courts of the kingdom. A very important point to note is that the POA, as required by the Saudi courts, come in a standard format. NEVER make any change to this format and NEVER have any initials or shortened form of names (for example Md., instead of Mohammed). Saudi courts accept only the full name of legal heirs.

You will have to then get both these certificates translated into Arabic. That alone is not enough. You MUST get both the English as well as the Arabic translation attested at three different levels. First, your local provincial Government's Home or Interior Department has to attest these certificates. Next, you must get them attested by the External Affairs / Foreign Office in your country. Finally, they must be attested by the Saudi embassy or consulate in your home country.

Once this is done, you must submit the entire set to your country's embassy in Riyadh. they will take over from that point of time to get your dues legally. How successful they are is another matter, but this is the procedure. As indicated in my earlier post (click here), every embassy has its own legal department and authorized lawyers who will fight the case on your behalf in the labor courts in Saudi. One important point is that the format for POA is fixed by the Ministry of Justice of the Saudi Government, so you must take care not to change even slightly and it must be complied with 100%. I have a specimen copy of the POA with me and would gladly share it with anyone who requests the same.

I trust this was of some use to those who are in such a bad shape after losing their near ones. If any such unfortunate dependent got benefited from this, then my day is made. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Insurance for families now compulsory

There is a very famous saying in England - "Rob Peter to pay Paul". The recent developments in the kingdom remind me time and again of this.

It all started with the Saudi Council of Engineers making it compulsory (click here) for engineers working in Saudi Arabia to register themselves. And the registration came with a hefty fee. Initially, it was not strictly enforced and no one was heeding much attention to it. Seeing the lukewarm response, the ultimate weapon was used. Either pay up or your Iqamas would not be renewed. What a neat and easy way to make money, without giving back anything in return!

Next, we had this infamous rule of the sudden hike in Iqama charges on those firms employing more than 50% of their staff as non-Saudis. From SR 100, the fee was raised straightaway to SR 2400 per year. As already predicted in this blog earlier (click here), this not only led to protests by owners of private companies, but the worst fears became true. The sponsors simply stopped paying the Iqama fees of their employees. Forget about what the Saudi labor law says that it is the responsibility of the sponsor to bear all the Iqama renewal charges. All this is only in paper. So, overnight you now have a situation where thousands of poorly paid expats have become illegal citizens in the kingdom. It is no wonder that over 7000 expatriates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines went on strike (click here).

And now we have the latest one. The Saudi Cooperative Health Insurance Council has announced that it is now mandatory for families residing in the kingdom to have health insurance cards. There is nothing new in this and most families by default do have health insurance cards, to insulate themselves from the high cost of healthcare. What makes it rather irritating is the announcement that "insurance subscriptions will be necessary to obtain or renew the Iqamas of family members". Take a look here at this announcement.

Now what do you decipher from this? Not only would Iqamas of families currently residing in the kingdom not be renewed, but also  Iqamas would not be issued to newly-arrived families without having an insurance card. So, if anyone brings in their family into the kingdom, they must first subscribe to one of the insurance companies before even applying for an Iqama. And they must keep on renewing the insurance card each year before applying for renewal of the Iqama. I really wonder from where they get such brainwave ideas. 

Rather than fleecing expats this way, it would have been more worthwhile if the family visa system itself was overhauled. Thousands of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia cannot bring their families just because their visa profession does not allow them to do so, even though they are quite capable to support their families. If only this was done, money would automatically flow into the kingdom. There would then be no need to indirectly tax the expats this way. There would be no need for the world's largest gasoline station to stoop down to this level and milk the expats to their last halala. 

I see a definite pattern in this. It appears that there is a lot of envy among those who implement such ideas that millions of riyals are being repatriated out of the kingdom each month by expats. The thinking seems to be,'why not tap this money by taxing expats in various ways and diverting it back to the kingdom'. Just take a look at the articles and comments in the local press and you can sense the body language (click here). While it may be true that some rich expats do invest a lot of money in other Gulf countries (invariably they are all businessmen / highly paid people and not ordinary expats from the working class), the vast majority of those in the kingdom just do not have that kind of money. Otherwise why would they bear the 52 degree heat and work in the desert? Things are getting more and more difficult for expats to make both ends meet. The days of oil boom are long over. I wonder if the kingdom would continue to remain any more attractive for expats if such outdated and atrocious policies are not reformed.