Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Temporary relief

The announcement of extension of the grace period until November 3, 2013 by the Saudi king has come not a day sooner. This practical and wise decision has given a big relief to thousands of stranded 'illegal' expatriates working in Saudi Arabia. 

What an ordeal it had been for the past three months. When the reckless raids by the Ministry of Labor started, small businesses could not cope up and simply shut down. Then came the hue and cry and finally the initial grace period of 3 months within which all those without legal papers could either opt to go on exit or to change their sponsorship and become legal expats. What resulted was something which even the labor ministry did not imagine in their wildest dreams.

There was a scramble and even panic among the thousands of workers to get out of the kingdom, who thronged their embassies in droves. Hard to imagine, but only now we come to know that there were such a huge number of people working in Saudi Arabia without legal papers. While it is the right of any country to give priority to its own citizens, the way in which this scheme was haphazardly implemented without proper arrangements is truly a lesson to be learnt by the authorities.

At one point of time, it appeared hopelessly desperate for these poor expats that they even resorted to violence. Just look what happened to the Indonesian embassy. Whatever said and done, it is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is on the threshold of a turning point in the way it is going to deal with expatriates. Things will not be the same again. Certain interesting facts came to light.

First, the number of people without proper papers ran into not just hundreds but thousands, cutting across all nationalities. Second, the most common reason for people without proper papers was that they escaped from their sponsors and were working for others. Isn't it time to ponder why these people did so in the first place? It is not normal human character to go against the law - nobody is born a criminal, it is just circumstances which force them to be so. This just shows that although slavery was officially abolished in the kingdom four decades ago, it still exists in practice in different forms. No wonder these people chose to run away. One cannot gloss over the fact that the vast majority of these 'illegals' chose to go back on exit rather than transferring their sponsorship to another employer. Isn't this something to ponder by right thinking Saudis? Is it not pointing to a deeper malice within the society?

Embassy officials of various countries swung into action and I must put in a word of appreciation particularly to the staff and ambassador of the Indian embassy who made special arrangements. Thank God for small mercies. Humanity is still alive and kicking.

Now is not the time to relax. Even though the last date is 3rd November, don't forget that we have Ramadan and Haj coming in between, which virtually takes away 2 months out of normal Government work in Saudi Arabia. Which means that for all practical purposes, we have effectively only 2 months more. It is next to impossible to expect a further extension, so it is either now or never for those who missed the bus the first time. This is certainly a relief, but only a temporary one and is not a time to be complacent. 

If the lessons are learnt, hopefully we can expect a better organized exit by the Ministry of Labor for these poor guys. After all, they are not beggars, but just expats who came to eke out a living - they deserve to be sent out with dignity. More number of counters need to be opened and there should not be restrictions on certain days for certain nationalities to get their papers. Why not just hire more people to cope up with this huge demand to get out of the kingdom? 

It would be interesting in the days to come to see the effects this is going to have on small businesses. But for the moment, this has come as a welcome relief for thousands of expats.


6 comments:

Mary said...

This place has become unbearable to live for expats. Lady teachers are living under a fear. Nothing is clear about their status.

Expatguru said...

Mary,

The revised rule says that "housewives" are allowed to work as teachers provided they pass an exam. No one knows who will conduct this. Pity that teachers are being treated this way.

Aslam Mohammed said...

Great

Shaiku said...

Thank you for the update

Anonymous said...

Wait until you need to get into the Saudi mess of NOCs, LONOs and transfer of iqamas. This is one of the most corrupt places you will ever work in. Sponsorship here is simply a 21st century form of human trafficking. It is disguised under ambiguous procedures and 'policies' but in the end expats are commodities. I was held in iqama transfer, 'can't leave the country' hell for 7 months while my employer procrastinated and did nothing until I went to Labor Board. Even then it took 2 more months and 4000 riyals cash.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame how they treat their help and where expats want to transfer them they make it difficult for them as well. Any ideas or any agents who can transfer? Have been trying to get out help transferred its in the final step still taking time.