The last three days have seen such a frenzied activity that each time I tried to write about one topic, there was a new development popping up immediately, so I decided to wait and consolidate all of them.
You might recollect my earlier article (click here) about the changes to the original Nitaqat scheme. So much has been the impact of these changes that the Saudi Government was forced to call the diplomats of all major labor exporting countries for a briefing last week. A series of "concessions" were announced. The most important among them are:
- All "illegal" workers (i.e., those without valid papers / working elsewhere other than their original sponsors) before 6th April, 2013, would be allowed to leave the kingdom without penalty. Their fingerprints would be taken, if not done already, but there would now be no restriction on their return to the kingdom for employment, unlike earlier.
- These workers are also allowed to change their sponsorship to any other sponsor without the need to take permission from their original sponsor. Transfer is possible even if the current sponsor witholds any documents. The only condition now is that the new sponsor must be in green category. Those who wish to check the category of the new sponsor can do so by visiting this link (click here). This is a huge relief for those whose sponsors are in red category and for those who are stuck in the kingdom because their sponsors have defaulted. Take a look at my earlier article (click here) in which this blog had highlighted how expats working in Saudi Arabia were suffering due to the faults of their sponsors.
- Final exit or exit/reentry will not be stamped on these employees' passports for 3 months, starting from the date of transfer of sponsorship. This is to settle any outstanding issues.
- Professions can be changed before 3rd July, 2013 without the need to pay any fees. The only condition is that these professions must not fall under those reserved exclusively for Saudis (read, easy-going-white-collared-jobs??). Some of these professions are clerk, receptionist, cashier, expeditor, etc. (And you thought they would be janitor, barber, cobbler, mechanic and carpenter?) Similarly, those who came to the kingdom to perform Hajj or Umrah before 3rd July, 2008 can obtain employment in the kingdom and they will be treated similar to the cases of "illegal" workers. Those who entered the kingdom illegally are not eligible for this concession.
- The Ministry of Labor has grandly announced a customer service number, primarily intended to "help" expats, which is 920001173. Unfortunately, the guy at the other end speaks only Arabic (some service!), so I would advise you to keep an Arabic speaking person next to you, in case you want to use this. I would like to recollect to readers my earlier article (click here) about a similar helpless help line announced by the Ministry of Interior. Same is the case with the grand announcement that all details are available in the Ministry of Labor's website. Just take a look at it (www.mol.gov.sa) and you will understand how insensitive they are to expats by having all the information only in Arabic.
In related developments, the ban on transfer of sponsorship of Bangladeshi expats has been lifted. Isn't it amazing that we never get to see an official announcement about these things, either the imposition or lifting of the ban? How could an entire community be blamed for the misdeeds of a few? And look who is talking about "discrimination" (click here)! What crap!
Foreign missions are now gearing up to beat the deadline of 3rd July. The Indian Embassy has collected 15000 passports of "runaway workers" from their original sponsors. These people can check in this link (click here) and can also call 01 4884697, 01 4881982, 0501699879, 0501700106, 0501699895, 0501699894. (P.S.After I published this article, I got an intimation from one of the readers Mr. Shaiku that there is a cheaper option. Scroll through the comments section). Similarly, the Phillipines embassy has in its possession 27000 passports while its consulate in Jeddah has 12000 passports. Filipinos can send an sms to 0569893301 with the text "Surrendered Passport" giving their last and first names, to find out if their passports are with their embassy. They can also call 01 4801918 or visit their embassy's website (click here). The Sri Lankan embassy plans to organize mobile consular services in Dammam, Hail, Al-Qassim and Saqaka. Nepali citizens can get in touch with their embassy by calling 01 4611108/ 4645170.
Meanwhile, there has been lukewarm response to the announcement that legal expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are now eligible to apply for GOSI (General Organization for Social Insurance). Remember in the eighties how expats were stripped of this right overnight? Expats do not want such cosmetic reforms. They just want to be treated well, paid on time and be able to live and leave with dignity.