Monday, May 13, 2013

Some relief finally?

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.
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  • 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.
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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.



 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

To work or not to?

This blog has maintained since its inception that for expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, the only thing certain in the kingdom is uncertainty. This has been proved repeatedly by the grandeur in which spate of rules and regulations are announced, only to be retracted with equal ferocity.

Probably the most pathetic among  expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are their spouses working in International Schools. These teachers, respected more than parents in their homelands for their noble profession, are rather degradingly termed as "housewives" by the local press. Little thought is given to the simple fact  that these women were hired by International schools because they were qualified, not  because they were "just housewives". 

The recent raids by the iqama-clipping over-zealous morons in the name of implementing Nitaqat has shaken the confidence of these teachers, who work to add some income to their husbands' kitty, not to just pass time. Most teachers preferred to stay at home out of fear. No one was sure whether they would be arrested and deported for working illegally, so they did the next best thing - they simply stopped going to work.

So bad was the situation that, believe it or not, an sms was sent by none other than the Ministry of Education to various International Schools in the kingdom. Here is the sms, which is self-explanatory:



Teachers heaved a sigh of relief and they started trickling in back to the schools. After all, the sms came from the horse's mouth, directly from the Ministry of Education, so they cant be wrong isn't it? Wrong. If in doubt, read the first sentence of this post once more!


Then came the damper. So what if the Education Ministry wanted schools to remain open? The Labor Ministry does not think so. In a complete reversal of the stand taken by the Ministry of Education, the spokesman for the Labor Ministry completely denied that spouses of expats were allowed to work. "The news is false, the ministry has not issued any such regulation", said the spokesman. Come on, the news was spread by none other than the Education Ministry through an sms! But then you don't talk logic in the kingdom, right? Take a look at this link:

http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130430163669

So, it is now back to Square One. What do you expect these poor teachers to do? Do you want them to work or not? What would happen after the three-month grace period is over?

The worrisome part is that even if the sponsorship of these teachers are transferred to their respective schools to make their employment "legal", the real issue is that their passports would now have to be handed over to their schools. Now, how many husbands in their good sense would like to hand over their wives' passports to another sponsor? What would happen if the husband loses his job and the wife's sponsor refuses to release her passport? Would it mean that the wife stays in the kingdom and the husband and kids go back? These are all frighteningly real possibilities in Paradise. Where is this society heading? The very thought is worrisome, isn't it?

On a related note, I think a safe bet would be for these highly qualified women (I hate to call them as "housewives") work from home. The world is a small place and is just a few mouse-clicks away. Take a look at this link for some guidance on how to make money sitting at home.

http://guidance.homepreneur-online.com

Let's hope good sense prevails and we get to see these teachers back to work very soon. "Legally" and without fear.