There is an old saying - "When the potato gets too hot, don't hold it in your hands anymore". This seems to be the case of the much-publicized and now infamous raids on "illegal' expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.
This blog has been repeatedly highlighting how time and again, rules which were implemented with much pomp were finally reduced to a whimper. First, it was the case of female teachers in the kingdom (click here). So senseless was this rule to transfer their sponsorships to their schools that it was quickly diluted to almost nothing.
Now comes the latest in the series of further dilutions. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has now announced that workers in fuel stations and those working in automobile service centres will get a two-year grace period to correct their status. For the uninitiated, Saudization is only for white-collar office-based jobs which does not require any physical or mental strain at all. Afterall, it is below a Saudi's dignity to get his hands dirty in a car service centre, let alone having the technical knowledge to do a repair isn't it? And who wants to sweat it out by carrying a 30-kg gas cylinder to the top floor? These menial jobs are for the "illegal" expats from a far away third world planet, right?
In several ways, the extended grace period which expired on 3rd November was a blessing in disguise. Thousands of expats who were trapped and had no way to get out without their sponsors' permission found a great window of opportunity - they simply left! And how it has affected the economy! Building construction, road laying, and virtually every single job which required hard hands-on manual labor has now ground to a halt. Contractors are wriggling their hands unable to complete projects. Taxi drivers have raised their tariffs. Suddenly, the markets are empty with no one to do the dirty work. So, what's the best face-saving way to at least postpone disaster day, if not get rid of it? Read the first sentence of this article again.
As it is, life has become very tough these days. Istemara charges have been raised by 50%. Inflation has shot up everywhere, with salaries not keeping pace. A leading executive of an MNC put it very plainly - "The rhetoric that illegal expats are occupying positions meant for Saudis is no longer cutting ice among common Saudis. The realization is slowly dawning on them that what was meant to create jobs for Saudis is back-firing on them with shooting inflation. To add to the problem, skilled expats are no longer preferring to come to the kingdom to work. The only way to save this country is to scrap outdated rules, open up the economy and treat expats with dignity so that the best talent is tapped.". True words from a wise man, but will it ever work?