Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Now, pay for your return tickets!

The Cabinet has this week approved a series of new rules and regulations which has a direct bearing on all expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Labor Law specifically states that the to and fro air tickets of expatriates would be borne by the sponsor. Now, with the new decision of the cabinet, there is a gaping loophole which I am sure unscrupulous sponsors would make complete use of.
The new rules were meant specifically to target the "illegals", i.e., those who have run away from their current sponsors and are working with someone else. Those who have come to the kingdom on so-called "free" visas are also classified as illegals. For those who are uninitiated, "free" here does not mean the free as in 'Buy one Take one free'. What it means is that some expats come to the kingdom by paying a hefty amount to their sponsors, who in return allow them to run a business on their own. These sponsors do not care what the expats do, as long as they are paid regularly. The expats are free to do whatever they want. This type of business, though illegal, has been going on for several decades, and such visas are nicknamed as "free" visas. Believe it or not, even those Saudis at the highest levels of society are party to this, and some of them do not even know where their employees are! With the recent crackdown and raids, small businesses have taken a severe beating. Most affected are tiny shops employing less than 2 or 3 persons, like saloons, small tea shops, cobblers, etc. Since the new rule requires all businesses employing less than 10 pesons to have at least one Saudi employed, and since you cannot see a Saudi barber or a cobbler or a tea shop worker because it is below their dignity to do such work, such establishments are dying a natural death.
One of the 14 articles in the new law approved by the Saudi cabinet this week specifically states that those illegals who are caught will not only be deported, but will have to pay for their return tickets themselves. The new rule says that the persons employing them illegally will have to pay for their tickets, but who is going to admit it? Now here comes the big catch. The new rule says that if a sponsor declares that his employee is an absconder ("Huroob"), then he is not liable to pay for his return tickets. The rule does not make any provision for the rights of expatriates (not that they had any) to complain about false declarations by sponsors. So, technically speaking, all that a sponsor has to do is to just file a report saying that his employee is an absconder, and then the poor guy would be deported and sent back at his own cost! And once he is deported, he cannot return to the kingdom either for work with another sponsor or for Umrah / Hajj pilgrimages.
The worst affected are those who came in these "free" visas. Most of these guys have borrowed heavily to pay these sponsors and their future is now uncertain. Why isn't there no punishment to these sponsors who issued such visas in the first place, knowing fully well that it was "illegal"? What would happen to all the labor-intensive jobs - loaders at ports, fishermen, sweepers, housemaids, car mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, AC mechanics, etc.,  when no Saudi is willing to take up such work? Once the 3 months grace period is over, no one knows how things would take a turn. Why this sudden rush to ram all these expats out of the country? Saudization is fine and is also the right of this country to provide jobs to its citizens, but is the method of its implementation right? Human greed knows no bounds and in the kingdom of humanity, one man's suffering is another's pleasure.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New changes to Nitaqat scheme

Remember all the hype about the Nitaqat scheme when it was introduced? I would like to recollect for the benefit of readers that as per the color code scheme, expatriates in the red category could get themselves transferred to yellow or green category companies. It was also announced with great fanfare and pomp on how "fair" this scheme was to expats and that those in the red category need not even get the permission of their sponsors to change to yellow or green categories.

Probably this announcement took authorities by surprise, because there was such a rush for people to change to yellow and green categories. Finally there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Then came the modification to the rule. Those who did apply for change from red to yellow and green categories could not leave the country for 6 months. Even though this was nothing short of absolute modern-day slavery, most poor expats could do nothing but to just bear this humiliation and carry on. At least there was hope that their papers would be transferred to yellow or green category in due course.

After the wave of discontent resulting from the raids and clipping of Iqamas, there was a royal announcement of a three-month "grace" period for "illegals" to change their status. This raised some hope for those who were caught in the red category as most saw this as their last chance. Yesterday, the fig leaf totally came out with the Ministry of Labor's announcement that those in the red category would not be able to change their status or take advantage of this "grace" period. In other words, they would all have to leave the country on final exit. The whole problem is, if their sponsors refuse to stamp the final exit, these poor expats would automatically be converted into "illegals" and face deportation. And once a person is deported from the kingdom, he just cannot re-enter again throughout his life. 

Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, SriLankan and Filipino embassies are already gearing up for exodus. No one is asking 'whether' this will happen, everyone is asking 'when'. In fact, the Indian embassy is already flooded with applications for an exit pass. So much has been the demand that the embassy was forced to announce that it would also accept applications sent by post and that there was no need for expats to come personally to Riyadh. 

Maybe this is the best chance for these poor expats to get out. What a fall from grace for the world's largest gasoline station from the oil boom days!

On another note, I am happy to announce that the one millionth visitor to this blog arrived this week. I am deeply indebted to my dear readers and expat brothers and sisters who have supported this blog since inception, not to miss my friend and software expert Deepa Govind who played a pivotal role in setting up the consultancy form. To all of you, a big Thank You from the bottom of my heart!