Thursday, April 25, 2013

Update:Crackdowns of Expats Working in Saudi Arabia

 Written by: Anonymous in Saudi Arabia
This past month, Labor forces in Saudi Arabia have cracked down on illegal workers. Eyewitnesses have reported to the local newspapers various accounts of situations faced. Many Western expats do not discuss such issues, because of course, it is not affecting them firsthand. For some reason though, even though I am a "Westerner" it is deeply affecting me. To see human rights be diminished is down right sad and wrong. If anything, the least that I can do is make people aware of the reality that thousands of expats are dealing with-right here and right now.
Many expats entered Saudi Arabia on a visit visa or a work visa. Everyone has a story. Usually the salary here is higher than in their home country. Saudi employers may have helped them attain a legal visa to work, and others allowed them to work illegally. In many cases, things go wrong and the Sponsor decides not to pay workers on time, refuses to renew thier work visa/iqama, or holds their passport to prevent them from leaving. Some people living in Saudi Arabia feel that this does not happen. Again, those who feel this way are the ones from Western countries who do not even associate with those from Pakistan, Indian, Bangledesh, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines and many other neighboring countries. Shockingly, when these expats want to return to thier home country, they are not allowed. Can you imagine moving somewhere and feeling that you may not be allowed to leave when you need to?

In order to leave the country, the Sponsor/Employer must first apply for an exit visa or multiple-exit/re-entry visa. These visa’s cannot be applied for by the expat, only the employer. Thus, if the employer chooses not to apply for the Visa, then the worker cannot leave. Some expats visa's expired and employers chose not to renew it. The high fees kept the expat from renewing it and as a result, they were left here illegally. This is quite common and the foreigners continues to work or search for work elsewhere. If he finds work from another employer, he cannot legally be hired, unless the previous employer grants permission. Can you see the predicament that foreigners are put in? Entrapment. Yes, it sounds harsh-but especially to those who are living right now in Saudi Arabia and wondering what to do next.

During the week of April 20, 2013, I drove past the Phillipino Counsolate to see for myself if those expats were truly camping outside. I saw it with my own eyes - hundreds of Phillipino citizens were camping under blue tarps and some were lucky enough to be in tents. The heat has caused children to become ill, as these Phillipino nationals wait to be released to return back to their country. In fact, before last months "Raid", they asked to be repatriated back to the Phillipines. Many of them do not even have their passports due to their employers keeping them. Others do not have a valid iqama to legally work in Saudi Arabia. They want to go home and they are simply waiting to be allowed-all at the mercy of forces in Saudi Arabia.
On April 24, a similar story was posted from yet another media source. Sri Lankins are now gathered below a bridge in Jeddah...waiting to be returned to Sri Lanka. Lucky for them, Saudi Arabia has agreed to send them back, but only at 25 people per day. One can only imagine what it must feel like to have no control over where to stay or where to go. Read more about this situation here:

This crackdown is now affecting the local economy. In Dammam, Saudi Arabia one such shop has been forced to increase the cost of their clothing. You can read more about it here:  The Arab news quoted Shoua’ Al-Dheilan, Workshop Committee president, saying: “The price increase is the result of the campaign against laborers who were in violation of their status. This prompted the regular women workers to demand higher wages if the workshop owners wanted them to continue. This in turn increased the cost of a number of services.”

Again, it is disheartening to hear the newspaper dab foreign workers as being “in violation of their status.” They have no choice and now that they are being forced to fix their status, they are being denied. So, what is the solution? For some, the only solution is to return to their home country. For many, the question remains-how?

Additional Articles (to affirm that this is really happening)

Interviews with Residents in Jeddah:

1.      Akhbar, who works in the car industry put in his resignation letter to his company-3 months ago! They have refused him to leave until he finds a replacement for his company.

2.      Ana, a Phillipino national comes to the Phillipino Counsolate daily. She continues to ask them to send her home. Her Visa/Iqama to work as a house maid expired and her sponsor refused to renew it. She has her passport, but no way of leaving, due to not being able to afford the financial fines accrued as being an “over-stayer.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Say "Hi" to Dubai

When I began planning our family trip to Dubai, Iwas happy to learn of Passion Tours via Hello Travel (an online travel agent site). I knew nothing aboutattractions or appropriate activities for my 3 children, photographer husband and shop-o-holic me! Their recommendation meant a great deal to me and so after looking at several tourism companies, I chose Passion as a result of great communication, good price quotes and professionalism.
We stayed in Dubai for 4 nights and 3 days and were able to experience a dhow cruise, city tour and Desert Safari. All tours, as well as airport arrival, included pick-up (transfers) and drop-off. We did not have to arrange any transportation at all and I really appreciated that. We only took a taxi and the metro once, on the hours that we were not wrapped up in our tours. All vehicles were new and clean vans that fit our family comfortably.
I asked him to find a hotel near the Gold Souk and very close to the Metro station and he did. We stayed in the Flora Grand Hotel and the station was one block away! Breakfast was included in our package and we were pleased with it. The hotel was lovely and was very clean. The staff all spoke very good English and responded to our needs immediately. Our family of 5 all felt very comfortable there. We even took the Metro to the Mall. It was about 6 stops away, but it only cost 6.50 AED and kept us out of traffic!
Our first tour was the dhow cruise on Dubai Creek.We arrived around 7pm and enjoyed  a dinner buffet. The entertainment was good and we enjoyed seeing all the buildings at night as well as the other dhow boats cruising by.
The next day, we took a private city tour. Our tour guide spoke very good English and gave us a brief history of each place. He showed us: The Kings Palace, Atlantis, Burj Kalifa, and Gold Souk. At the end of our tour, we stayed at the Gold Souk and shopped our hearts away. It was so much fun as we were able to get very inexpensive souvenirs.
Later that afternoon, we were picked up for the Desert Safari. This by far was everyone’s favorite! The desert safari company was absolutely superb! The driver was very professional and drove on those sand dunes with such ease and enjoyment! The food at the desert camp was the best on our Dubai trip. My daughter and I had our hands painted with henna, my husband smoked the hubbly bubbly “shisha,” and our sons “sand boarded”down the sand dunes!

Our last day was filled with our own schedule. We stayed at the Dubai Mall and took the children to “Build-A-Bear Workshop” where they were able to make their own stuffed animals and purchase bear sized clothing for them! They also enjoyed the Aquarium and the huge candy store. We had dinner at Texas Roadhouse (yum!) and then ended our evening at the mall’s movie theater. What a wonderful trip we had, and all thanks to the coordination of Kirin and his team at Passion Tourism. I recommend his company to anyone living in or near the Middle East and planning tot ravel to Dubai. Vacation should be stress-free, right?

Looking at the Burj Kalifa

Looking upon the Burj Kalifa

Desert Safari - Part 1- Quad Bike Riding!

Twisty building in Jumeriah

Peacocks outside the King's Quarters

Burj Al Arab

Traditional Dance performed on the dhow cruise

dhow Cruise at night
If you are looking for a great travel agent for the Dubai area, feel free to contact Passion Tourism who I highly recommend the team at Passion Tourism!

Dubai Office:Room no: 508, Star Line building, Rigga road, Deira
Dubai, U. A. E, Mobile no: 00971(0)567746650 (24Hrs assistance)
Head office:Room no: 2, Illikal Parambu, R.S.A.C Road, Vytila P.O
Cochin 19, Kerala, India, P.O Box no: 682019
Mobile no: 0091(0)9745 543 533 (24Hrs assistance)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Raids in Saudi Arabia

A true test of social media took place this past week across Saudi Arabia. Many people heard stories of how foreigners were being deported due to illegally working or working for someone other than their original sponsor. It is true that many foreigners (also called expatriates) are working, although their visa says “not permitted to work.” However, companies and businesses in Saudi Arabia still recruit such “local hires.” It is simply cheaper because it prevents the company from having to provide visa’s and airline tickets, as well as accommodations for such employees. Some of the workers may be housewives, or may have formerly worked for another employer and found work elsewhere for better pay.
One reason for these recent raids is to ensure that Saudi citizens have jobs. According to   the unemployment rate is more than 12.1% among Saudi’s. Saudization is a drive that has been occurring for the past few years, which has made it a law to employ Saudi citizens. These recent raids on schools, hospitals, shops and even cell phone companies is one way to ensure that businesses are following the rules.

Widespread panic and/or discussion via Facebook and twitter took place. Some people wondered if the panic was caused by rumors. They wondered if it was just a way for certain facebook groups to bring more traffic to their pages. I can tell you first hand, that these raids did take place and panic occurred. I interviewed several people who spoke of their experiences (all from Jeddah).

1.      Yousef explained how he received daily texts from his child’s school, saying that the school was closed due to electrical problems. Another parent with a child at another school received similar texts from his child’s school.

2.      Rania, a college instructor in Jeddah was told that classes were cancelled and not to come to work until further notified.

3.      Apartment “gaurds” also called “haris” were rounded up in Mohammed’s neighborhood. They were not paid and were taken to jail.

4.      Danya’s daughter went to school only to have her class combined with several others, because many of the teachers were afraid to come to work, due to fear of being taken and deported.

5.      As Zahid arrived to work, he was told to go home and work from home until further notice.

6.      Government employees were checking iqama’s at Saad’s workplace (cell phone business). This went on for hours, he said, until finally, they instructed the company to check their own worker’s iqama’s for legality.

7.      Janet noticed that the local bookstore has less employee’s working, compared to a normal Wednesday evening.
All interviewee’s named above, have now returned back to work. Things have since calmed down and many people’s fears are gone. However, many have not. Some are now more insecure about staying in Saudi Arabia. They feel unwanted. They feel that they have worked very hard to improve their company. According to a recent article in the Arab News, companies now have 2 months to get their papers and employees in order. The article can be found here: Many countries go through this process of cleansing the country of illegal workers. It is also a reality that employers are not abiding by the laws of their country (they are hiring these workers!) It is no doubt that change is occurring in the kingdom. It is my hope that foreigners will be protected and feel safe once again.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those interviewed.