On a day when social media was riled up by a negative campaign against expats, the government issued a landmark decision, one that helped dissipate a great deal of negativity.
In a big relief to expats married to Saudis, the Justice Ministry has done away with a law which was widely abused to settle scores by spouses in times of marital discord or family disputes.
According to the law, an expat woman married to a Saudi man had no recourse to cancel her husband’s arbitrary decision to issue her a final exit visa during the course of a trial.
As her legal sponsor, all he had to do was log into the Absher electronic system operated by the Ministry of Interior and press the “final exit visa” button. In cases of family disputes, this was widely abused to settle scores with the woman sometimes not even knowing about it. And even if she knew, she was powerless against it.
Cases of expat men married to Saudi women were the same. The expat man was completely at the mercy of the Saudi woman in case of marital problems or discord. With one click of a button, he was persona non grata in the eyes of the law.
Tuesday’s decision has put an end to all this.
In cases of family disputes or marital discord, Saudis will not be able to force a final exit visa on their expat spouses. The affected expats will now be able to stay in the Kingdom for as long as the courts take to settle the marital or family dispute.
Under the new law announced by the Justice Ministry, a judge is empowered to allow non-Saudi spouses to stay in the Kingdom pending the completion of the divorce cases.
The new regulation is the result of a study prepared jointly by representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the General Directorate of Passports. The study dealt with disputes in couples with one spouse a non-Saudi who is sponsored by his/her Saudi spouse.
Article 25 of the new law stipulates that when the case is being heard, and if a deportation order is issued, the court is empowered to determine the period required to complete the case and send it to the relevant authority.
Also, the party requiring to stay in the country has the right to grant power of attorney to a third party to follow up on the case.
In case of married couples, the Saudi citizen formerly had the right to ask for a final exit visa for his/her spouse who was under his/her sponsorship.
The new decision gladdened the hearts of expats on a day when they had been subjected to abuse on Twitter as part of an obnoxious campaign.
Saudis responded firmly in ridiculing a hashtag which called for deporting all expats.
“The campaign on Twitter does not, and cannot, represent the Saudi people,” said TV producer Mohammed Al-Jubna. “It simply creates bad feelings between Saudis and our brothers and friends from Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim countries.”
Businessman Faisal Al-Atawi went a step further in his view of expats.
“They are our brothers, especially the Arabs and Muslims. We cannot say that all expatriates are bad as many of them have contributed to the development of the Kingdom’s infrastructure and economy.”
Al-Atawi pointed out that expatriates have, by their sheer efforts at work, risen to top positions in different corporations and companies.
Saudi citizen Raid Al-Otaibi said: “They left their hearth and home to make a decent living for their families. Instead of asking for their deportation, we should welcome them to their second homeland.”
Another citizen Mohammed Al-Shehri questioned the origin of the divisive hashtag.
“It is the work of those who want to spread hate and sedition between Saudis and foreign workers,” he said, and called on the authorities to investigate those who are guilty and take action against them.
“Expats have been part of our society for many, many years and they have been loyal to our country. They should be treated with respect and dignity,” said Al-Shehri.
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