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.

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