Apply the Law Against Illegal Workers with Respect and Justice

2015-0312 Apply the Law Against Illegal Workers with Respect and Justice

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

In his weekly column on Sunday, Khaled Almaeena dealt with various aspects of the new security campaign against labor and residency violators that was launched this week. He mentioned press reports and statements from officials of the General Directorate of Passports with regard to the crackdown that is likely to result in the deportation of thousands of illegal expatriates.

Almaeena emphasized the point that the majority of these so-called “illegal expatriates” are victims of greedy citizens who brought in these people on work visas but had no jobs to give them. And hence, they allowed these workers to go out in search of jobs on their own. The writer cited from his personal experience some instances in which workers were subjected to injustice. He also stressed the need for taking punitive measures against the heartless people who create a bad image and tarnish the reputation of the country by doing injustice to these workers.

I totally agree with the viewpoints articulated by Almaeena. All of us are keen to see that the law of the land is enforced strictly, but this should be done in a fair manner. I personally know of several cases in which expatriates were victims of the greed and injustice of some Saudis who appear to have no conscience at all.  I would like to shed light on two specific incidents in which I was, unfortunately, one of the parties involved.

In the first instance, one of my friends from a country where I was working as a diplomat sought my help to get a job in the Kingdom. By coincidence, there was a Saudi businessman in the capital city of that country at that time. The businessman came with a large number of visas to recruit both white collar and blue collar workers. The Saudi, who showed signs of wealth and lavish spending, agreed to give a visa to my friend who was qualified to do clerical work. The businessman promised me that he would not accept any money from the man for a visa, and would provide him with an air ticket.  However, when my friend found that there was no ticket for him, I began to suspect that the businessman was engaged in the visa trade.

When my friend reached Jeddah, he was shocked to see that there was no job for him or others who came on the visas given by the businessman. Adding fuel to the fire, they saw that the sponsor had vanished, and they later learned that he had fled the country. When I returned to the Kingdom, the friend approached me and recounted the harrowing experience of searching for the sponsor or his agent for about six months so as to secure a residency permit (iqama) and a job, but to no avail. At last they found the businessman’s brother who helped to get a transfer of sponsorship on the condition that the friend would not seek any rights owed to him by the sponsor. My friend was compelled to agree to this as the only way to end the ordeal. Fortunately, Almighty Allah compensated him with a very good job which was what he had hoped for when he decided to come to the Kingdom.  

The second example was what happened to another Asian national who approached me to get a job as a watchman (haris). I wanted to hire him and wrote a letter to his sponsor, who was in Makkah. While taking the letter from his sponsor to the passports office for sponsorship transfer, I learned that the sponsor had not given the man his passport. When I approached the passport office, I was surprised to find that the sponsor had submitted the passport to the passport authorities after reporting that the man was a runaway (huroub) worker. Then, I contacted the sponsor and asked him why he had not issued a release letter after reporting the worker as huroub. Even though he promised to help resolve the problem, he turned off his mobile phone whenever I tried to call him.

Things went from bad to worse when the worker made a last-ditch attempt to meet his sponsor. On his way from Jeddah to Makkah, the passport officials detained him for carrying an expired iqama and then discovered that he was a runaway worker. Later, someone called me to say that the man had been at the deportation center for more than one month and needed a ticket for deportation. After I arranged for a ticket, he was deported as another victim of a heartless sponsor.

These are two incidents in which I witnessed the suffering of expatriates at the hands of their sponsors. I want to emphasize that expatriates should be apprehended for the violation of iqama and labor rules but at the same time, penal action should also be taken against sponsors who are the ones who are really responsible for such a predicament. Also, there should be an end to the visa trade. Work visas should be issued only after confirming that there are jobs available for the number of visas for which a sponsor has applied.

What is the point of issuing visas without having actual jobs for expatriates and allowing them to go out to search for jobs only to be apprehended and deported as illegals?  There should be stringent action taken to curb the visa trade and those involved in this illegal trade should be prosecuted as is done with drug traffickers. The poor workers, who buy visas after selling their belongings and property, become victims after falling into the trap of unscrupulous agents who earn huge profits through this lucrative business by deceiving the workers with false promises.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at


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