A screaming headline in a local paper said: “Illegal expats: Go home or be blacklisted.” Another paper stated: “Saudi amnesty offers illegals chance to leave.”
Now with all these headlines people might assume that those “illegals” are up to no good and have been offered a reprieve. However, what exactly constitutes someone being termed “illegal”?
I believe that “illegals” or overstayers are those who came for Haj and Umrah and are here beyond their visa period. However, to say that all of those who have “iqama” (residence permit) problems are “illegal” is wrong.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the passport department overlook the plight of these people who are suffering due to the inhuman attitudes of their sponsors. I have received many phone calls from these poor workers many of whom have been asked to pay as much as SR 4,000 to have their iqamas renewed or to be reported to the authorities as being “huroub”, having run away from their sponsor.
A cab driver informed me that his “kafeel” (sponsor) who has a life and death hold on him refuses to give him a release from work and instead has asked for money. His iqama expired yesterday.
A doctor from Riyadh sent me a letter that will make you cry.
“Life has become miserable, the apartment owner threatened to throw me out and call the police. I have exhausted all resources in the past two years and have nothing left. I have been jobless for two years.”
Another note from a desperate man: “Kindly help me to get out of this situation. It is hard to live. I also have a heart problem.”
And there are thousands of such cases. While it is true that there are labor courts, unfortunately the dice is stacked in favor of the sponsor as he usually has someone supporting him who knows an employee there.
This is too much. I have written about this for years and the only two ministers of labor who showed sympathy and humanity and took action were the late Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi and Dr. Mufrej Al-Haqbani.
We spend millions trying to improve our image abroad and hire public relation firms and a host of other organizations to help us do so. We can save a lot of money and negative media reports by being kind and just to expatriate workers.
The leadership in this country, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Crown Prince and the Deputy Crown Prince, have always stated that they care for the welfare of all in the Kingdom and this includes expatriates who have contributed to the nation’s progress.
However, the evil acts of some Saudis and their greed are giving us a bad name. Moreover, poor expatriates do not deserve the harsh treatment that they receive. I urge the Minister of Labor and Social Development to respond to the pleas of these unfortunate people by taking prompt and decisive action. I write this because I fear that God may be displeased with us. And to my media associates, I say that the real violators of the sponsorship system are the people who sell visas and thrive on the misery of others.
— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena