Thursday, October 10, 2013

Low cost Hajj services

Performing the Hajj pilgrimage is one of the important duties of Muslim pilgrims around the world. This number of pilgrims who visit Mecca and Madina has been steadily increasing year after year. This is supposed to be done at least once in a life time by Muslims, but the ease of travel access has led to a number of pilgrims performing it several times. Though the authorities are making the best efforts to provide the necessary infrastructure, it is becoming a huge challenge to manage the event. A few years back, authorities even put a ban of 5 years for domestic pilgrims before they could perform the pilgrimage a second time. I had mentioned about it in my earlier article (click here for details).

Over the years, the cost of performing the Hajj pilgrimage has been going up steadily, so much so, that it has become an expensive affair even for Muslim expatriates who are working in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Government's Hajj Ministry has now announced that 22 companies have been licenses to provide low cost Hajj services. Click here for more details. 

Just as I was wondering how to get the list of these companies, I received a mail from one of this blog's long-time readers listing out the same and requesting me to publish it. He has been so modest and wants to remain anonymous, so out of respect for his privacy I am not mentioning his name, though I am grateful to him for the same.  Since I started this blog in 2007, the information in this blog has reached all parts of the globe and at this point of time it is getting about 60 hits every hour. And I give all credit to the dear readers who have equally contributed in enriching this blog, like this reader.

Do take a look at the table below sent by that anonymous reader and if it has been of some use to someone, then my day has been made.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tough time for Teachers !

With hardly a month left for the grace period to expire, International schools in the kingdom as well as female teachers are under tremendous pressure.

Most international schools employ locally hired female teachers from their own countries. This is more due to acute shortage of qualified teaching staff rather than anything else. Until now, these female teachers could still be under the sponsorship of their husbands while working in these schools. But the sweeping changes brought about by the Nitaqat scheme (click here to read my earlier article on this) has affected the employment of these teachers which in turn has had a domino effect on the education and future of expat kids studying in these schools.

To begin with, the Ministry of Labor issued a set of guidelines in August. Teachers planning to work in any school in the kingdom MUST get their sponsorship changed to that of their respective schools, as per those guidelines. They must have the relevant academic qualification certificates. Now comes the beginning of a long journey, so typical of Saudi bureaucratic red tape.

The certificates must be attested by both Ministry of Education as well as Ministry of Higher Education. For this to happen, the certificates must be attested by the Saudi Cultural attachés in the respective countries of the teachers. The Saudi Cultural attaché will attest this only if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the host country attests it, who will in turn do so only if the Vice Chancellor or his designated official of the University from where the teacher completed her education attests. No, we are not yet done !

Additional requirements by the Ministry of Labor are that the teacher must be between 18 to 60 years old, must have a valid iqama and must have spent at least one year under her husband's sponsorship before even applying for a transfer of sponsorship to the school. Which means that if someone brings his wife to the kingdom and she finds a job in a local school, she has to wait at least a year till she can even think of applying. Height of nonsense, isn't it?

Wait, we are not done yet. The Ministry of Labor insists that the qualification of these teachers must match with the subjects they are going to teach. And you know how stupid these rules are? It is the qualifications of the teacher at graduate level which matters, so if someone has done a post graduation in a different stream she is not supposed to teach that subject ! Finally, the teacher must qualify for an interview to be conducted by the Ministries of Education and Higher Education. Interestingly, daughters of expatriates in the kingdom are not allowed to transfer their sponsorships to the schools, only sons are allowed. How do you spell c-h-a-u-v-i-n-i-s-m in the kingdom of humanity?

Okay, so as expected, most teachers preferred to simply stay at home rather than going through all this mess, which indeed it is. Who wants to be jailed and deported like a common criminal, for simply teaching children? In so typical fashion, when teachers stopped going to work, the Ministry of Education issued new guidelines recently.

The time for transfer of sponsorship has now been extended by one year. Teachers have to obtain a so-called "Certificate of Eligibility" from the Ministry of Education without which they cannot work even during this one year without changing their sponsorships. The necessary forms must be filled in and copies of the qualification certificates must be submitted to the Ministry, in order to obtain this certificate of eligibility. If teachers do not have the qualification certificates, they can produce substitute certificates provided they are not over 5 years old. Schools are supposed to maintain records of these teachers to produce to the officials of the Labor office whenever they come for inspection.

Teachers are supposed to get their original certificates attested as described before, within this one year. However, they are all required to take up a test set up by the Ministry (oh boy, here we go again!) Once they pass this test organized by the Ministry of Education, they will be issued a certificate. I tend to believe that this is one more money-making exercise, similar to what they did with engineers being asked to get their certificates attested by the Saudi Council of Engineers (click here to read that article). Now this certificate issued by the Ministry of Education has to now be attested by the Ministry of Labor who will then be issuing another letter called "Letter of Declaration". Unless teachers possess this letter, they are not supposed to work in any school even during this one year period and if caught, they will be imprisoned, fined heavily and deported after completion of their sentence. After all, they are common criminals, aren't they?

Now these guys who come up with such brainwaves probably do not have a clue of how to even think practically. Let's say a teacher does go through all the above nonsensical procedures and gets her sponsorship transferred to the school. And let's say the husband's job is Saudized. Remember, the wife's passport is now with the new sponsor, i.e., her school. So this means the husband and the kids have to leave the kingdom while the wife will be alone in this country till she completes her contract with her sponsor. And God forbid, if she lands into some kind of labor dispute with her sponsor, she has to stay alone and fight it out. Quite a frightening possibility, isn't it? I really pity these teachers, who are doing such a fine job in a noble profession, next only to nurses. Expats with kids studying in the kingdom - think hard about your children's future.