Sunday, November 3, 2013

Amnesty ends, Uncertainty begins

It was bound to happen. For thousands of "illegal" expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, the only lifeline to get out of the kingdom gracefully or to transfer their sponsorships to someone else has now expired with the end of the amnesty period. It has been a traumatic year indeed for most of these expats.

To begin with, the raids which followed the Nitaqat scheme became hugely unpopular, not because of the raids themselves but because of the nature in which they were carried out. Iqamas were routinely seized and cut into two in front of the expats just on the basis of suspicion and if the persons concerned were not able to immediately provide proper documents. Overnight, these poor people who helped shape this country, who built its infrastructure - roads, ports, buildings, power stations - were all branded as "illegal". One newspaper used the word "escapees" to refer to those who ran away from their original sponsors which I find totally disgusting and degrading.

The embassies of Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and SriLanka have appealed for an extension of the amnesty period and going by the statements of the Labor Minister, this seems unlikely unless there is a royal decree. The Indian embassy has done a commendable job though. However, what is worrying is the fate of people who are left out and who could not complete their paper work on time. The levels of fine are so high that these people might have to stay behind bars for the rest of their lives, if caught.

The "inspectors" have been "trained" by the Labor Ministry. No one knows on what. Will they revert to the old practices of physical manhandling, cutting of iqamas and reckless raids? Time alone can answer this. It is still not clear what is going to happen to people who are caught and do not have the means to pay the hefty fine. It is also not clear what and whether there is going to be a similar punishment to greedy sponsors who sell visas by the dozen without even bothering to find out what these people are doing, as long as they get the money - the root cause of the present problem.

Meanwhile, the regulations for domestic helps have already come into force. As usual, there are ambiguous rules. Domestic workers are entitled for 9 hours rest per day. The regulations do not clarify how many hours of work per day, which means that they can be made to work up to 15 hours a day and sponsors can get away with it because they have not broken any rules. There is supposed to be a paid sick leave, but who certifies whether the domestic worker is sick or not? Will they be allowed to visit the doctor in the first place? A one-month paid vacation is assured as per the law, but how many domestic helps even get to go home once every three years? How many are even literate enough to know their so-called rights?

The "obligations" required from domestic workers are even more ambiguous. These workers cannot reject any work without any "valid reason". Now you can imagine how loose this term is. Who decides whether the reason is valid or not? The worker is supposed to "obey the employer and his family members" and "should not disclose household secrets". Please, give me a break. If the matter was so secretive, the employer must have enough common sense not to discuss it in front of his domestic help.

With such vaguely framed rules, I do not expect miracles to happen for the welfare of these poor workers. What needs to fundamentally change in the Kingdom of Humanity is the attitude. Rest everything else will fall in place. The coming days are going to be crucial and a period of testing times indeed. 

9 comments:

Aslam Mohammed said...

I was waiting for your views, good as usual.

Anonymous said...

My job is clerical but my profession in iqama is cleaner. My company is in Green. Can profession change be done after amnesty? Since I have not changed profession within amnesty, is there a danger ?

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

The risk of you being caught by inspectors is extremely high. Hence immediately initiate the profession change.

Anonymous said...

Sir I cannot change my profession now, I will get my certificate in 2 months. My company tells me there will not be any problem. I am working in a Government company. Is there a risk of being caught by inspectors ?

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

The amnesty period is already over. Whatever be the verbal assurances given by your employer, the fact is that if you are caught by the inspectors, you will most certainly be fined heavily, arrested and deported after you complete your sentence.

Shaiku said...

Dear Expat Guru,
The last sentence should read as "COMING" instead of "COMMON', rest, appreciate your views.

Expatguru said...

Thanks for pointing it out, Shaiku. I have corrected it. You have a sharp eye :)

Anonymous said...

Sir i have a co-worker with expired 90 days visa and still dont have his iqama. Our company is telling him that it is already under process and its okay to continue to go to work. Will he get arrested by the authorities without any proof that his documents is already on processing? What should be the right document to be provided to him? Thanks.

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

Please fill in your query in the form using the link in the top right corner of this blog. I charge a nominal fee for my consultancy, which would get you a detailed, personalized and confidential reply by email.