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.