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Expats nervous over Labour crackdown

Saudi expats apprehensive over new labour law

The aim is to close a loophole allowing companies to get around strict new quotas that determine how many Saudis they employ.

April 8, 2013 9:43 by

Most foreign workers come from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Yemen and other Arab countries.

Umm Hajar had already been working at a beauty salon in Jeddah for two years before she met her husband, an Egyptian construction supervisor in Riyadh who is officially registered as a labourer for a different company.

After she returned to Morocco they agreed to marry, but his official status as a labourer does not allow him to sponsor dependents in Saudi Arabia. Through a friend, they found a Saudi who agreed to sponsor her, ostensibly as his maid, in return for a fee of 15,000 riyals ($4,000).


Other expatriates fear any request to change sponsors will not be granted, as the firms they work for do not want to book more foreign workers, or because the profession they want to be registered under is now seen as the preserve of Saudi workers.

Across the country, foreign workers have been exchanging stories of spot inspections and sudden deportations.

The Labour Ministry has denied reports that it is enforcing immediate deportations, but people who lose their official residency status must leave the desert kingdom.

“There are lots of people in my situation. Nine people live in the building where I live and only two of them work with their registered sponsor. The rest work somewhere else,” said an

Egyptian, who requested anonymity to avoid state reprisal.

Although the tougher approach was unveiled last year, a government announcement in March that it would start applying the rules with spot inspections by the labour and interior ministries caught expatriates and businesses by surprise.

A Lebanese couple in Jeddah are also worried they will lose their residence permits because the wife, who is listed as her husband’s dependent and therefore not eligible to work, has actually been employed as a schoolteacher.

“My wife has been working there for five or six years now. All of a sudden the government came to apply the rules, so we panicked,” said the man, in his mid-30s.

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