SUSRIS periodically shares perspectives from columnists in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. Here today for your consideration is a recent column by Tariq A. Al Maeena published in the Saudi Gazette.
The Expatriates Strike Back
Tariq A. Al Maeena
Following the drive by the Ministry of Interior and the Passport Department to detain and deport foreigners working illegally or without status, and fed up with the negative reports in this regard in press reports, some expats have sent me a summing up of their frustrations. One of them has not taken too kindly to some reports attacking foreigners in this country for all our problems.
He writes: “Dear friend, we read and hear in the media about the problems of illegal residents and of Saudization. I assume that most Saudis have a total misconception that all foreigners come here to earn money ‘and go home to be rich!’
“First of all, most of the skilled foreigners pay for their academic education and have loans to pay off for the funds used to educate them! Second, some who come here even take a cut in pay; yes, a cut in pay to enjoy what they have a passion to pursue!
“Third, there are no future pensions and medical plans once their term of employment here is over! Fourth, there are personal costs in their home countries to be covered, such as loans, mortgages, insurance, pensions, second homes, etc. These costs, especially in developed countries are high. (By the way, these expenses are not involved in supporting dependents at home)
“Fifth, there are moving or relocating costs — as sponsors do not pay for them. Sixth, we dislike/hate to be treated without respect by some Saudis, especially those in official positions. Exit visas remind us of the Soviets — not of modern society.
“In our case, my wife receives less in pay and benefits (30 percent less when including pension benefits paid by the employer) than she was paid in her executive position in my home country.
“So why are we here? Because she is passionate about her work at her establishment… and there are more things to life than just money. We are happy to be here, but that happiness tends to get ‘watered down’ when our sacrifice is so under appreciated. Regards, J.K.”
Another expat had this to say: “I want to draw your attention to a critical issue. Please consider this as I am serious about it. I have been here for the past five months. I spent SR25,000 on buying the type of visa they call a free visa. After arriving here, my sponsor got me my Iqama (residency permit) after two months. Not long after that, my sponsor wanted an extra SR350 riyals for something called ‘tamil shamil’. Unfortunately in these five months, I could not find a job.
“Yesterday, I received a call from the sponsor telling me to find some company and transfer my visa over to them otherwise he would report to the police that I have fled (haroob). He said this because he is afraid of the government’s actions once the three-month grace period is over. I told him to give me a few days. If I do not find a company to work for, then don’t declare me as haroob, but instead get me my exit visa.
“My point is, I have lost SR25,000 in this venture. I took me three years of great effort to collect this amount. I just wanted to tell you that arresting people with free visas and sending them home is not a humane solution. If you want to stop all this stuff, catch those countrymen of yours who trade visas in large numbers and stop the issuing of visas without confirming the legitimacy of sponsors. Thank you, A.A.”
There are many dimensions to the residency dilemma. On the one hand you have legitimate expatriate employees working for companies they have been recruited by and who have sponsored them. At the same time, there are countless numbers of expatriates who have come to the Kingdom by paying huge amounts to visa traders, and are given freedom by their sponsors to work on their own, paying them an annual fee for the privilege.
Then there are those expatriates who have run away from their original employers. Either fed up with work conditions or seeking better pastures elsewhere, they flee from their sponsors, often without their documents, and end up working for someone else.
There are also many in the Kingdom who are overstayers — individuals who came to perform Umrah or Haj and never bothered to return to their countries. And finally, there are the border infiltrators who cross over into the country from the southern borders in search of something better. It is from these last two groups that some of society’s ills such as crime, diseases and other social aberrations have developed.
For the media to generalize and group all expatriates into one basket of unwelcome pariahs and target them as the root cause of our social and economic problems is deplorable and unprofessional. We owe our thanks to those expatriates who are here legally and are actively participating in the Kingdom’s development.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/talmaeena
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