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Online iqama services drive local agents out of business.

IBRAHIM NAFFEE

JEDDAH: The new online service of Passport Department, including renewal of residence permits and other procedures related to expatriate workers, closed the door of profitable business of muaqeb, a local agent who was playing an "essential" role to complete all procedures through going to passport offices on behalf of expatriate workers. Online services shortened the procedures of renewal of residence permits (iqama) by employers. Several expatriates who corrected their residence status in 2013 depended on their employers to renew these permits. In the past, expatriate workers paid SR 5,000 as a minimum to agents to complete their procedures. Many Saudis who were working as agents had opened special offices to receive expatriates' personal documents and discuss problems that could complicate procedures of iqama renewals. Most agents have strong ties with passport department officials. The agent, or muaqeb, would always have solutions to resolve these problems. However, the new online services of the Passport Department changed the situation. Expatriates must be legal workers with a private company to complete residence permit procedures through electronic channels. Private companies started now hiring a Saudi man follow up the procedure at Labor Offices or Passport Department. "I was working as an agent completing all procedures relating to expatriate residency permits. But the iqama system has been changed. The new online service, known as 'Absher' can be completed by employers. I have stopped working as an agent (muaqeb) now," Abdullah Al-Zaharni, a former agent told Arab News. Many expatriates praised efforts of the Passport Department to transform their service online. The new services help them to complete their procedures in short time and at a low cost. Expatriates previously complained of high fees of agents to renew their residence permits and agents were accused of exploiting the situation of expatriates and their need for the renewal of residency papers. Ahmed Sadeeq, a Sudanese national working in the private sector, said: "Each time I had to renew my residency permit, my agent was asking me for higher fees. I have three sons and daughters and they are all in school, so I was paying SR500 for the iqama renewal of each of them." Hussain Al-Asaad, a Syrian working in a private company in Jeddah, said that despite their high fees, "their role was essential in facilitating expatriates' affairs in Saudi Arabia. They take care of many residency related transactions. But the situation has been changed. Expatriate workers can do their procedures without a need to look for an agent who has ties to passport officials. Most companies in the Kingdom have an employee at the human resources department who follow up the procedures of transferring sponsorship and iqama renewal."

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Oct 11, 2015
Words:461
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