Mixed signals in KSA as amnesty deadline for illegal workers approaches

Published October 27th, 2013 - 12:30 GMT
Different cities throughout the Kingdom are issuing different statements to foreign workers attempting to secure their legal status before the November amnesty deadline (Reuters)
Different cities throughout the Kingdom are issuing different statements to foreign workers attempting to secure their legal status before the November amnesty deadline (Reuters)

Have the requirements for rectifying expats status changed? Are there different requirements for different nationalities? Do procedures and requirements differ from city to city in the Kingdom? What does an expat do if the sponsor is withholding his or her passport?

These questions are just a handful of the thorns still stuck in the sides of countless expats and Saudis racing against time, exerting all efforts, knocking on all doors and striving till now — the last eight days of amnesty to rectify status.
“Hear me everyone,” called out a ‘jawazaat’ employee standing at the gate of Jeddah’s passport department, his hands cupped around his mouth. “Only those with their original passports can enter and get fingerprinted.”

A rumble of separate protests broke out among the expats and their relevant potential Saudi sponsors gathered around the gate.

“This isn’t what they said at the beginning,” said an Indonesian woman, Sumiyati, a domestic worker.

“First they said just bring a new passport; then we came to them with the light green passports, official travel documents issued by our consulate. And they said now bring the dark green passports. Here we are with dark green passports. Now they are saying bring the original passport you entered Saudi Arabia with!” Sumiyati said dabbing at her tearful eyes with the corners of her scarf.

“Why are they making it impossible for us? We are trying to do the right thing.”

She broke into tears burying her face entirely in her scarf as other Indonesian women, mostly if not all domestic workers, patted her shoulders and back in an attempt to comfort her.

Nearby Saudis also complained about the contradictions and inconsistency the process of status-rectification was peppered with.

“These people don’t have their original documents, neither their passports nor Iqamas which made them illegal in the first place because of bad sponsors who don’t fear Allah,” said Amal, a 40-year-old Saudi woman who was there at the expense of her office hours. “The whole purpose of the King’s amnesty, may Allah give him more strength, is to help and allow illegal stayers to fix their situation. Don’t they know what the King said?“

When Saudi Gazette asked Ahmed, a 62-year-old Saudi retiree standing across the street from the gate, so have the requirements changed? 

His response: “Allah knows because everyone everywhere says something different. We have done all that we know, all what authorities told us to do.”

Ahmed, his face red from standing in the outside heat, his forehead and nose beaded with sweat, added: “The authorities say one thing, the newspapers say another thing but what happens here is totally different!“

“Like what the Indonesian sister just told you. First they said get new passports if you don’t have one. We got new passports from the Indonesian consulate  — the light green ones (laissez passer — a valid travel document for one year and recognized worldwide),” said Ahmed. “When we went for fingerprinting, the Jeddah ‘jawazaat’ wouldn’t let us in and told us ‘no get the dark green passports’. And again we went and did more running around and got the dark green passports. Now they tell us get the original passports they entered the Kingdom with!“

“Get the original passports? Is this a joke? We are here because they don’t have their original passports! Are we toys? Are they just making life impossible for us all?“

Another Saudi man jumped into the conversation adding, “My cousin fixed the status of two Philippines women working for him who were in the exact situation these Indonesian women are in.” Though he did not reveal his name he continued: “They didn’t have their passports or Iqamas, they got new passports, were fingerprinted right here and now are in the process of getting new Iqamas. Is it a different procedure, different requirements for different nationalities? Why? And if it’s the case then why weren’t we all told?”

Apparently not only is there a question of there being a change of requirements or different requirements for different nationalities but it appears that the scenarios differ from city to city.

An Indonesian woman, living in Madinah with only the light green passport managed not only to get fingerprinted but was issued an Iqama. Did she have a ‘wasta’ (connections)? How about a bribe?

“No. Neither this or that,” who asked to be named Laila as her current employer calls her. “I even went alone, stood in the lines alone. My employer is a Saudi woman, a schoolteacher and a widow. She wouldn’t come with me.”

Then, of course, there are those countless expats whose intact and valid passports and Iqamas are there but out of reach — with their sponsors.

“My sponsor won’t give me my passport and won’t transfer sponsorship to the company I’ve been working for,” said a 32-year-old Pakistani electrician who asked Saudi Gazette to name him as ‘Taleb’.

Earning less than SR2,000, he is the breadwinner for his six-month pregnant wife, their two-year-old son Mehmood, his elderly parents, crippled single uncle, widowed sister and her five children back home.

“I even paid the SR8,000 my sponsor asked for during the first amnesty period to return my passport and transfer my sponsorship,” said Taleb, sitting in a squat at the entrance of an old apartment building in Jeddah’s Aziziyah district where he shares an old studio-like apartment with six other expat men.

The sponsor took the money, failed to deliver passport or Iqama and has been successfully dodging all Taleb’s calls and attempts to meet him.

“Before, my only issue was that my employer wasn’t my sponsor. Now I am without a passport or Iqama,” said Taleb, adding, “Also to pay him that much money I had to stop sending home any money and borrow too.”

“What do I do now?” he said throwing open his empty hands in front of him. “I have nothing now, no passport, no Iqama — nothing to send home, nothing to pay my debt with, I’m even eating from my roommates’ food share.”

He muttered a “Ya Allah“(Oh God) and covered his face with his hands.

This is but a minute sample of the countless other similar situations if not different impossible-like locked ruts. It seems that the amnesty meant to resolve issues, righting the wrongs and the wronged, has spawned if not reinforced matters. As for Sumiyati, Ahmed and Taleb it seems that they have reached a dead-end before the deadline has come to its end.

By Somayya Jabarti

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