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Time to do away with sponsorship system.

Qaisar Hamed MetaweaThe seven-month amnesty period offered to expatriate workers to rectify their employment status and to be in compliance with the Residency and Labor laws of Saudi Arabia ended on Nov.3 and the inspection campaign has already started. Accordingly, any expatriate worker, who has not rectified his status during the amnesty period, is deemed by the government to be illegally staying in the country.

There is no doubt that the government has the right to make sure that everyone is working legally in the country. However, we should not deny that many expatriates have been victims of the rectifying process and little was done to help them. Many of them could not rectify their status because they worked for employers other than their sponsors and when they tried to rectify their status and transfer their sponsorship, unhelpful sponsors asked them to pay hefty amounts, as payment for their consent for such a transfer. Even when some expatriate workers would pay, they were still not able to rectify their status. To add injury to insult, some expatriates could not find their sponsors during the amnesty period as some of them live in other cities, or deliberately would not offer assistance unless paid sums of money and thus they could not rectify their status.

Of course, there are other cases where due to not being able to rectify their status for various reasons, many expats had to leave Saudi Arabia.

Sadly, a common perception has slowly developed in certain quarters that the expatriate workers were solely to be blamed for working illegally in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the reality is that the ones who are more to be blamed are those greedy and manipulative sponsors who took advantage of the situation. It is a fact that many sponsors had obtained thousands of visas to recruit expatriate workers and upon arrival in Saudi Arabia, they were forced by their sponsors to work anywhere they wanted, as free workers, on condition that they paid them an amount by the end of each year or month or else leave the country. Most of the expatriate workers had no other choice but to agree as they had already paid all their savings or taken loans to come to Saudi Arabia and were not fully aware of the laws and regulations. In fact it has been a common practice for decades to work as free workers and prior to the changes this year, it was not a big issue with the local authorities.

It would be foolhardy to blame the expatriates for the current chaos in the job market, as the ones who really should be blamed are the illegal visa traders, who did not care about anything other than exploiting expatriate workers to make millions out of the their sweat. Unfortunately, we have not done enough to assist expatriate workers and punish or stop Saudi sponsors from exploiting them. Not only that, but we have also blamed them for the chaos in the market.

We have to be honest and accept that the visa traders have been abusing the requirement of sponsorship under the Residence Law, in order to exploit poor expatriate workers for decades. No doubt, if we really want to stop this chaos in the job market, we have to amend the law and cancel the sponsorship requirement, and if we do not, this chaos will happen again in the future as visa traders will not hesitate to find ways to do the same thing again with expatriate workers as it is a very lucrative business for them.

I have requested in many articles to cancel the sponsorship requirement and I am requesting again in this article as without canceling it we will need many rectifying campaigns in the future as visa traders will continue their business and the chaos will happen again and if we continue to blame the expatriates for the mess we are only deluding ourselves and failing to deal with the root cause of the problem.


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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Nov 17, 2013
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